An Overlooked Petroleum Crisis
In today’s society, many of us have become accustomed to the sight of birds and marine animals struggling for life on an oil-slicked beach after a massive oil spill. We have also become more aware of the devastating effects that automobile emissions have on the atmosphere. Some may even recall the hellish image of burning oil wells in Kuwait spewing black clouds into the sky after the Gulf War. However, one danger of the petroleum industry has not received much attention in recent years: the petroleum pollutants created by industrial production and refinement.
For crude oil to be converted into its many useful forms, such as gasoline, diesel, and kerosene, it must be processed extensively in large chemical refineries. These refineries are full of toxic chemicals that, especially in under-regulated third-world nations, often leak into local atmospheres and water systems. Each year the petroleum-refining industry produces hundreds of millions of pounds of pollutants, pollutants that consist of over one hundred different toxic chemicals, many of which find their way into the air, water, and land. Some of the petroleum pollutants released by refineries include sulfuric and hydrofluoric acid, ammonia, chlorine, benzine, lead, and mercury, all of which harm human health.
Air, Water and Land
When concentrated in high enough levels, these petroleum pollutants harm and disrupt ecosystems and human communities. Runoff from refineries and unlined waste ponds harms–or even destroys–local ecosystems whenever it enters the local water system. Often little can be done to undo the harm caused by this pollution. Sometimes the pollutants directly affect agriculture and livestock, harming animals and local economies, as well as humans themselves. Unprotected populations near petroleum facilities often see higher rates of cancer, dermatitis, fungal infection, headaches, and nausea.
Transporting products to and from refineries often results in massive spills, which are also very damaging to local environments. Additionally, the creation of refineries and the roadways to and from these facilities has been responsible for the irreparable destruction of huge tracts of virgin wilderness, including the highly threatened Amazon Rainforest. As petroleum production continues, levels of petroleum pollutants will only increase and, in some areas, will eventually reach levels at which massive environmental damage may become irreversible.
The Next Step
The best thing that the average citizen can do to help stop the problems associated with petroleum pollutants is to become aware of these problems. This awareness alone will impact how you use petroleum and its products and will help you to inform others. You may also take further steps through donation or volunteer work to help mitigate the damage already caused; however, the threat of petroleum pollutants will only continue as long as the petroleum industry remains profitable.