Our planet, Earth, has large reserves of oil and gas trapped deep beneath its surface. Occasionally, these reserves develop cracks and some of the oil or gases seep out. However, this is a part of nature and rarely causes any major damage. On the other hand, there are times when the same problem is caused because of human interference and it can cause a great deal of damage to marine ecosystems. In the last thirty odd years, the issue of oil spills and their effects has taken on much importance. This is because when an oil spill occurs, it causes a multitude of problems for the environment and us.
An oil spill is the release of liquid petroleum into the environment, especially marine areas, due to human activity, and is a form of pollution. The term is usually applied to spills into water bodies (stream, river, sea and ocean) when oil is released into the ocean or coastal waters, but spills may also occur on land.
An oil spillage can also happen when liquid petroleum is released into the environment by vehicle, vessel or pipeline. It happens on a large scale and is mostly seen in water bodies. It happens due to human negligence and is a major form of pollution. The sources of the spill are many. Crude oil can be released by tankers on land.
Oil spill can prove fatal for plant, animal and human life. The substance is so toxic that it can cause massive loss of species that live in the sea. Oil spill penetrates into the plumage and fur of birds, breaks down the insulating capabilities of feather which makes them heavier; disallow them to fly and kills them via poisoning or hypothermia.
The main effects of oil spills on humans may be due to direct and indirect contact with the spill. The main oil spill effects on humans include a variety of possible health effects, economic impact, as well as recreational and aesthetic. A variety of health effects (from minor illnesses to serious conditions possibly including cancers). From direct exposure to oil spill – a variety of health effects may develop when the oil spill occurs close to where people live or work and may come in contact with humans through breathing gaseous oil compounds and/or oil compounds adsorbed on particulate matter (dispersed through air). Another exposure pathway may relate to activities in contaminated ground (e.g., soil) or through skin adsorption when touching spilled material.
Human health can also be affected by indirect exposure through consumption of contaminated food or water; this is especially relevant in the case of consumption of fish that was in contact or in an oil spill polluted environment. This is because some oil components have ability to “bioaccumulate” in living organisms. This means that if a fish lives in a polluted environment, it will keep adsorbing in its body some oil components (without excretion) which may reach concentrations higher than those of the surrounding waters. Through consumption of such polluted fish meat, humans may become seriously exposed to higher concentrations of oil components than in the surrounding environment or as compared to ingestion of the polluted water or bathing in the polluted water.
The constituents of crude include hydrocarbons, nitrogen, sulphur ( mostly as hydrogen sulphide or sulphur), oxygen and trace minerals; the hydrocarbons are paraffins, naphthenes and aromatics (benzene, toluene and xylene).
The trace minerals include Iron, Zinc, Copper, Chromium, Manganese, Nickel, Lead and Cadmium.
1. Skin disorders
Direct contact with crude oil can cause contact dermatitis, a form of skin rash
2. Respiratory disorders
Crude oil spills may be associated with fire; inhaling smoke from such fire could cause respiratory disorders such as Pneumonia and bronchitis. The smoke contains aromatic hydrocarbons such as benzene and also Hydrogen Sulphide, nickel, chromium and cadmium.
Both can irritate the respiratory tracts. Persons who inhale the smoke are aso known to develop dizziness and headache.
Aromatic hydrocarbons such as benzene, and trace minerals such as Nickel and Cadmium are known to be carcinogenic, consequently exposure of human to crude oil directly or indirectly could increase the risk for cancer.
4. Kidney damage
Crude oil contains lead and cadmium as trace minerals, human can consume these from polluted water or animals which died from the pollution. Lead and cadmium can damage the kidneys which can lead to kidney failure.
5. Water pollution
In water bodies, the spill occurs due to drilling rigs, offshore oil platforms and well. As oil spill, it floats on water and prevents sunlight to pass through it. The shiny substance that you see sometimes on top layer of water is nothing but oil which makes it difficult for plants and sea animals to survive. Consequently water pollution by crude oil kills both plants and animals.
Polluted water cannot be consumed by human, thus drinking can become a problem; so also is water for cooking and washing.
Cleaning up of oil spill is no easy task. Various factors need to be considered before carrying out operations. Some of them being amount of oil spilled, temperature of water, type of beaches and many more.
6. Soil pollution
Soil pollution by crude oil renders the land less fertile; farmers are deprived of their source of livelihood and also there will less food for the population. Several places in the Niger Delta Region are not arable owing to repeated oil spills. Much of Ogoniland is not arable today because of oil spills though the federal government has just launched a clean-up programme which may last up to 30 years.
Soil pollution can affect underground water by seepage, this can eventually be consumed by human
7. Destruction of aquatic life
The animals that live in the water or near the shore are the ones most affected by the spill. In most cases, the oil simply chokes the animals to death. Others that live face a number of other problems. The oil works its way into the fur and plumage of the animals. As a result, both birds and mammals find it harder to float in the water or regulate their body temperatures. Many baby animals and birds starve to death, since their parents cannot detect their natural body scent. Birds that preen themselves to get rid of the oil accidentally swallow the oil and die due to the toxic effects. In many cases, the animals become blind due to repeated exposure to the oil. Dolphins, sea otters, fish, countless species of birds and many oceanic mammals face these consequences.
8. Disruption of leisure
Pollution of water bodies like rivers, lakes or the sea makes sailing impossible; be it for leisure or livelihood such as fishing. A lot of persons derive great pleasure from sailing, water pollution disrupts such pleasure.
9. Negative Economic effects
When precious crude oil or refined petroleum is lost, it affects the revenue of the country especially if it is a mono-product economy like Nigeria. Then comes the cost of cleaning the oil spill; this could be huge. Although the company responsible for the oil spills and their effects has to clean it up, a lot of government help is required at this point.
The workers that are brought on board to clean up the spill face tremendous health problems later in life as well. Their medical treatment has to be paid for and becomes the responsibility of the government. Putting all the methods of recovery into place and monitoring them take away resources from other more important works and hit the economy in subtle but powerful ways.
Industries that rely on sea water to carry on their day to day activities halt their operations till the spill is cleaned up.
Those who depend on fishing for livelihood will not be able to fish until after the clean-up and the majority of the fish will either be dead or poisoned.