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Petroleum – toxicity, side effects, diseases and environmental impacts

Thursday, November 23, 2017 by

Petroleum is a fossil fuel produced deep in the earth via a process that took millions of years to complete. It has many forms and names, and petroleum can be found in countless products that contain petrochemicals, or chemicals obtained from petroleum and natural gas.

Petroleum products include transportation fuels, fuel oils for heating and electricity generation, asphalt and road oil, and feed-stocks for making the chemicals, plastics, and synthetic materials that are in almost everything we use. Out of an estimated 7.21 billion barrels of total U.S. petroleum consumption in 2016, 47 percent was motor gasoline (which includes ethanol), 20 percent was distillate fuel (heating oil and diesel fuel), and eight percent was jet fuel.

List of known side effects

Mineral oil and petroleum are the basic ingredients in various cosmetic products still being sold today. Both ingredients have the same origins in fossils fuels. Cosmetics often contain mineral oil, and these products work by locking moisture against the skin. Mineral oil sits on the skin’s surface and can block pores, which can cause pimples because the skin cannot properly “breathe.”

Fragrances in cosmetic products are made of aromatic hydrocarbons. Perfumes and products containing fragrance can be made from hundreds of chemicals to produce a distinct scent, and a lot of these aromas come from petroleum.

Body systems affected by petroleum

Petroleum hydrocarbon toxicity may involve the respiratory, gastrointestinal (GI), integumentary, or the central nervous systems (CNS). In most cases of ingestion, no clinical signs are seen, but small animals can show oral irritation, salivation, and champing of jaws, followed by coughing, choking, and vomiting.

Pneumonia due to aspiration of hydrocarbons into the lungs is often the most serious consequence of ingesting these materials. Aspiration can occur during vomiting by monogastrics or eructation of rumen contents.

Pulmonary damage can occur from a combination of volatility, viscosity, and surface tension. A higher volatility promotes access of vapors to the lung and airways and displaces alveolar oxygen.

Items that can contain petroleum

Petroleum and petroleum byproducts are in various items such as shampoos, conditioners, and cosmetics like anti-aging creams, body lotions, nail polishes, etc. Petroleum is often listed on labels under unfamiliar names, such as mineral oil or words ending in “eth,” which indicates the need for a petrochemical to produce it. The list below includes some cosmetic and health product petrochemicals in ingredient labels:

  • Benzene
  • Butanol and words with “butyl”
  • Ethanol and words with “ethyl”
  • Fragrance or parfum, which are derived from petroleum
  • Methanol and words with “methyl”
  • Mineral oil
  • Parabens
  • Paraffin wax
  • Toluene

How to avoid petroleum

To avoid petroleum, one can use alternatives for petroleum-based products. Opt for electric, natural gas-powered, or hybrid gas-electric cars marketed to general consumers.

Use an alternative to diesel fuel called “bio-diesel,” which is made from used vegetable oil and can be burned in diesel cars and in-home oil burners. Alternative energy sources for home heating and electricity generation include photovoltaic, passive solar, wind turbines, and renewable fuels like wood pellets and corn.

Where to learn more


Petroleum is a fossil fuel that has many forms and names. Petroleum can be found in countless cosmetics, personal care products, and foods that contain petrochemicals.

Mineral oil and petroleum are the basic ingredients in various cosmetic products still being sold today.

Petroleum hydrocarbon toxicity may involve the respiratory, GI, integumentary, or the CNS.

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