Hydrocarbons consist of a variety of organic materials that are made up primarily of hydrogen and carbon. Some of the most common hydrocarbons include substances such as motor oil, gasoline, mineral spirits, kerosene, paints, rubber cements, dry cleaning chemicals, solvents, and a variety of others.
Hydrocarbons may originate from wood or petroleum. Products that originate from petroleum include those such as gasoline or kerosene; other products that originate from wood include items such as turpentine. Hydrocarbon products vary in form at room temperature (gas, liquid, or wax solids).
Pollution may result from hydrocarbons when either partially burned or unburned fuel is released into the air. The fuel by-product is dispersed into the environment and includes toxic fumes that may result in harmful health conditions such as cancer. The primary source of this pollution stems from various vehicles such as cars, trucks, buses, boats, or other non-road vehicles. Other sources of hydrocarbons are produced when paints, solvents, dry cleaning chemicals, and other like substances are released into the atmosphere.
A “high” hydrocarbon level in the air results in reduced amounts of available oxygen and interferes with its intake levels.
When an individual is exposed to hydrocarbon toxicity, the lungs (pulmonary system) are the most affected parts of the body. The characteristics of the specific hydrocarbon type involved may determine the level of toxicity. Some of these include the amount or dose of the substance and the route of the ingestion.
Aspiration of a specific class of hydrocarbons called, aliphatic hydrocarbons, commonly leads to pneumonitis (inflammation of the lung tissue). This condition is a direct result from the effects of the hydrocarbon substances that lead to a change in the density of the lungs, also called, lung parenchyma. In addition, other conditions such as loss of blood and swelling may result. Other rare pulmonary problems may also occur that include collapsing of the lungs, an air-filled cyst in the lung (pneumatocele), or air leakage.
According to a published report called, Annals of Oncology, occupational exposure to a specific class of hydrocarbons called, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), may increase lung cancer incidence. Reported data suggests that high levels of PAHs have been linked to industries that involve coal tar or in areas that include production of items such as coke, steel, and iron.
The report states that there is a moderate increase in lung cancer incidence in these hydrocarbon-related industries. The greatest risk was associated in areas that involved coal gasification. Coke, iron, steel, and roofing-related industries were shown to increase lung cancer risks by as much as 40 to 60 percent.