Hesperian Health Guides

Oil Causes Serious Health Problems

As with other toxic chemicals, health problems from oil may be difficult to prove because they take a long time to affect people. But most people who live and work near oil drilling sites and refineries are familiar with the pollution of air and water from oil. Drilling for oil, refining it, and burning oil as fuel all lead to many serious health problems, such as the ones listed below and those discussed in more detail on the pages that follow:

  • blurred vision and other eye problems
  • headaches, hallucinations, euphoria (sudden feelings of happiness), tiredness, slurred speech, brain damage, coma
  • convulsions and unusual deaths
  • nose sores and nose bleeds
  • ear infections
  • asthma, bronchitis, pneumonia and other respiratory diseases
  • lung and throat infections and cancers
  • increased risk of TB (tuberculosis)
  • heart attacks
  • digestive problems, including vomiting, ulcers, and stomach cancer
  • damage to liver, kidneys, and bone marrow
  • menstrual problems, miscarriages, stillbirths, and birth defects
  • skin rashes, fungus, and cancers
A dazed, skinny boy sits in an alley and inhales petrol.
In some places, people sniff petrol (gasoline) fumes for drug-like effects. This is very dangerous. For some people, breathing in gasoline deeply, even once, can cause sudden death.

Long-term health effects

Oil causes reproductive health problems

Breathing fumes or swallowing food or liquids contaminated by oil and gas causes reproductive health problems such as irregular bleeding cycles, miscarriages, stillbirths, and birth defects. These problems may have early warning signs such as abdominal pain or irregular bleeding.

Oil causes cancer

Regular contact with oil and gas causes cancer. Children living near oil refineries are much more likely to get cancer of the blood (leukemia) than those who live farther away. People living in areas where oil is drilled are much more likely to develop cancers of the stomach, bladder, and lungs than people living in other places. Workers in oil refineries have a high risk of cancer of the lip, stomach, liver, pancreas, connective tissue, prostate, eye, brain, and blood.

When Texaco began drilling for oil in Ecuador, cancer was not known in the region. Forty years later, it is one of the region's worst health problems. In 2 of the most heavily exploited oil regions of the Amazon, the community health workers did a survey of 80 communities and found high rates of cancer, especially cancer of the stomach, bladder, and mouth.

2 boys look at a poison container and dead fish in a stream.

This page was updated:02 Nov 2020