In Toxicity of Crude Oil and It’s Vapors environmental toxicology expert witness Dr. Richard Parent writes:
Crude oil is a complex mixture of chemicals, some volatile and some water soluble. One of the components of crude oil is hydrogen sulfide, a very potent neurotoxin. Although hydrogen sulfide is a gas, it has solubility in water. This characteristic in combination with other sulfides and lower aliphatic and aromatic hydrocarbons, which are part of the crude oil, is what we smell when land and water become contaminated with crude oil. Hundreds of chemicals make up the crude including some straight chained hydrocarbons, branched hydrocarbons, aromatic compounds, and naphthenes, as well as polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons.
One of the more insidious components of crude oil is benzene. Benzene is quite water soluble (1700 mg/l) and is a known human carcinogen producing various blood dyscrasias including aplastic anemia, Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, and leukemia. The toxicology of benzene is addressed in the Toxicology Litigation Support section on this website. One of the potential problems with benzene is that it is more soluble in the crude oil than it is in water. It can be released from the floating crude into the air over the water and also released from the crude on the shore by the baking sun. This presents only one of the potential health hazards for those living near a contaminated shoreline. Similarly, a host of additional low molecular weight hydrocarbons, aromatic compounds, and sulfur compounds can act in a similar fashion.