When one pulls up to a gas station, the pungent smell of the gasoline cannot be ignored. When broken down into its natural components, gasoline is composed of toxic particles including benzene, toluene and xylene. When people are exposed to these particles, they may face health risks varying in severity. It is important for individuals who are frequently exposed to toxic particles from the environment to be aware of the hazards and to take proper measures in order to prevent any danger.
A study was done in Hyderabad, a city in Central India, to test the mutagenicity and cytotoxicity of particles from gasoline. Blood, buccal cell and urine samples were collected from 200 fuel filling station attendants who worked with and directly handled fuel as part of their profession. Methods were taken to test for DNA damage, and results showed that the attendants had a significant increase in genetic damage and a greater frequency of nuclear anomalies and chromosomal aberrations in comparison to controls. Such mutagenic and cytotoxic particles from gasoline present greater health risks for those directly exposed.
In Ecuador, a study was done on 92 individuals, half of which work in the oil industry and are frequently exposed to hydrocarbons from petroleum. These hydrocarbons are known to be neurotoxins and carcinogens, and are known to increase the development of leukemia and hematological tumor development, as well as many other cancers. The exposed individuals in this study displayed symptoms including headaches, itchiness, dizziness, nausea and eye and skin irritation. Through different methods of analysis, it was found that the group exposed to hydrocarbons had a greater percentage of DNA damage, chromosomal breakage and gene polymorphisms with greater mutagenic and carcinogenic susceptibility. Exposure may initially cause only slight symptoms, but these toxins are known carcinogens and could lead to much greater dangers.
These hydrocarbons pose risks not just for those who directly handle fuel and similar substances, but also individuals in other professions that are exposed to the toxins. In Manila, a city in the Philippines, a study was done comparing tests from gasoline station attendants (people exposed directly to gasoline and its components on a permanent basis) with tests from traffic enforcers (those exposed indirectly to gasoline). No significant difference was reported between the two groups, though both had a significantly greater frequency of DNA damage than the controls. The effect of gasoline and its toxic particles can spread and affect people in all different occupations that experience greater exposure to vehicular emissions, including but not limited to firefighters, police officers and mechanics. All people exposed to genotoxic substances should be aware of and protected against the risks of such emissions.
However, there are other factors that influence how a person will be affected when exposed to toxic elements from automobile emissions. A study done in Coimbatore City, India tested 27 petrol pump workers as well as controls, and categorized them into groups based on their age, their smoking habits and the amount of time that they are exposed to toxins. Different genetic tests were performed, and results showed that there was a greater frequency of damage in the group of workers with a longer duration of exposure, as well as the group of older-aged subjects. Those who smoke had a greater frequency of damaged genes than those who don’t smoke. Petrol pump workers need to be regularly monitored and should take precautionary measures in order to maintain their health.
Because of the risks from exposure to gasoline, efforts have been taken in order to reduce the toxic particles present in automobile emissions. One such method is to treat gasoline with oxygen-containing hydrocarbons, such as methyl tert-butyl ether (MTBE) and ethyl tert-butyl ether (ETBE). These substances change the characteristics of combustion when emitted, so MTBE and ETBE were added to the fuel in different concentrations, and then toxicity and gasoline emissions were measured. Through different methods of analysis, researchers concluded that mutagenicity and cytotoxicity of the fuel was reduced when mixed with MTBE and ETBE, thus providing a potential solution to implement.
The issue of vehicular emissions affects not only gasoline workers, but also those in all different occupations. People living in urban areas are at greater risk of the consequences of inhalation of toxic particles, but everyone should be aware of areas that contain higher levels of vehicular pollution and should try to prevent excessive inhalation in places like gas stations.