Also known as: Kerosene, Diesel Fuel, Home Heating Oil, Coal Oil,
Chemical reference numbers (CAS): 8008-20-6 and 70892-10-3
What is fuel oil?
Fuel oil is a general term for a number of burnable liquids made from crude oil. Most
common is Fuel Oil No.1 (also called kerosene), range oil, and jet fuel (JP5). Fuel oils
1-D and 2-D are diesel fuels. Fuel oil No. 2 is home heating oil, and fuel oil No. 4 is a
diesel fuel for boats. All fuel oil mixtures have similar chemical and physical
Fuel oils are used to run many types of engines, lamps and heaters. Sometimes small
amounts of fuel oil are stored in portable containers for use in space heaters, to clean
metal parts, or used in camp stoves or lanterns.
Most fuel oil entering the environment comes from spills or leaking storage
spilled on soil, some components of fuel oil attach to soil. Furthermore, fuel spilled on
water or soil, evaporates into the air. Fuel oil can also contaminate soil sediments and
private drinking water supplies.
How are people exposed to fuel oil?
Breathing: People can breathe fuel oil vapors when filling tanks or
after a spill. Other situations include using kerosene heaters, or using kerosene to clean
machinery or paint brushes. If water supplies are contaminated, people can inhale the
vapors as they bathe, do laundry or use the water for other household purposes.
spills in basements or attached garages can seriously contaminate the air inside of homes.
Drinking/Eating: Low level exposure can occur when contaminated water
is used for drinking and/or for preparing food.
Touching: Some fuel oil can pass through the skin when people use it
as a solvent, spill it on their skin or use contaminated water. Since some of the
chemicals in fuel oil attach to soil particles, children can be exposed as they play in
Do standards exist for regulating fuel oil?
Water: Although there are no drinking water standards for fuel oil,
there are standards for some of its ingredients. "Aromatic" compounds make up
about 35% of fuel oil, such as benzene, toluene, and xylene.The standard for
benzene is 5
parts per billion (ppb), toluene is 1 part per million (ppm), and xylene is 10 ppm. We
suggest you stop drinking or cooking with water containing these chemicals at levels
higher than the standard, or if you smell a kerosene odor or see a oily sheen. If levels
are very high, you should avoid washing, bathing, or using the water for other purposes.
Air: No standards exist for the amount of fuel oil vapors allowed in
homes or workplaces. Most people can smell fuel oil at levels as low as 0.1 parts per
million (ppm) in air.
Use fuel oil only in well-ventilated areas. Large spills should be cleaned by
a professional. All spills require significant cleaning and venting. Tightly seal and
properly label storage containers. Be sure to vent kerosene heaters outdoors. This will
reduce your exposure to carbon monoxide, a deadly gas that can be formed as kerosene
Will exposure to fuel oil result in harmful health effects?
Most people can withstand short exposures to fuel oil vapors without any problems.
However, breathing fuel oil vapors overtime can affect a person's ability to smell and
taste. High levels can cause headaches, nausea, light-headedness, poor coordination,
increased blood pressure and difficulty concentrating.
Skin contact can cause irritation that results in itchiness, redness, pain, blisters,
Swallowing fuel oil can cause vomiting, diarrhea, swelling of the stomach, cramps,
coughing, drowsiness, restlessness, irritability and breathing difficulties. Drinking more
than an ounce can result in coma or death. Most accidental poisonings involve children.
Many of these children drink kerosene that was being kept in old soft drink bottles.
Cancer: Exposure to fuel oil is not known to cause cancer in humans.
However, long-term exposure to benzene, the most toxic component of fuel oil, is known to
Reproductive Effects: Reproductive and growth-related effects of fuel
oil are not known.
Organ Systems: Prolonged or high level exposures to fuel oil can cause
kidney and liver damage, nervous system damage, increased blood pressure and reduced blood
In general, chemicals affect the same organ systems in all people who are exposed.
However, the seriousness of the effects may vary from person to person. A person's
reaction depends on several things, including individual health, heredity, previous
exposure to chemicals including medicines, and personal habits such as smoking or
It is also important to consider the length of exposure to the chemical; the amount of
chemical exposure; and whether the chemical was inhaled, touched, or eaten.
Can a medical test determine exposure to fuel oil?
Fuel oil leaves the body within 2-3 days. Although benzene, toluene, and xylene can be
measured in blood, there is no good method to determine the level of your exposure.
Through tests of the nervous system, kidneys, liver and blood your doctor can evaluate the
health effects of fuel oil exposure.
Seek medical advice if you have any symptoms that you think may be related to chemical
(P-44758 Revised 12/2010)
This fact sheet summarizes information about this chemical and is not a complete
listing of all possible effects. It does not refer to work exposure or emergency
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