The dangers of chemical exposure in the oil and gas industry

Many are aware of the dangers of heavy equipment and strenuous tasks in the oil and gas industries. They may not be aware, though, that some of the most serious dangers may be in the air around them. Chemical exposure puts workers at serious risk, and the CDC notes that many of these gases can pose an immediate risk to the life and health of workers at high enough concentrations.

Silica particles

Silica crystals are found in cement, asphalt, soil, granite, sand and many other things made from rock and sand. Especially during hydraulic fracturing, particles of silica become airborne and can easily enter the lungs of unprotected workers. This can cause respiratory irritation, a lung disease called silicosis and even lung cancer as exposure builds up over time.


Mercury is a naturally occurring element, and some oil or natural gas deposits can produce relatively high amounts of mercury. When heated, this element creates an odorless and colorless gas that can be inhaled by workers and may condense on pipes or equipment. Exposure to this element can cause:

  • Skin and eye irritation
  • Loss of peripheral vision
  • “Pins and needles” feelings
  • Muscle weakness
  • Lack of coordination or difficulties speaking, hearing or walking
  • Personality changes
  • Insomnia or headaches
  • Tremors
  • Headaches

Because heavy metals like mercury build up over time in a person’s system, gradual exposure over time can be just as dangerous as exposure to high amounts at one time.

Hydrogen sulfide (H2S)

Hydrogen sulfide is a colorless gas often produced during the process of refining oil or natural gas. It is highly dangerous even at low concentrations to the health of workers if inhaled, and it is highly flammable. Symptoms of exposure to H2S gas include:

  • Eye irritation
  • Irritability, memory loss and cognitive challenges
  • Irritation in the respiratory system
  • Headache or dizziness
  • Lack of appetite
  • Seizures
  • Loss of consciousness

While this gas does smell like rotten eggs, it can also cause workers to lose their sense of smell. Because of this fact, it is imperative that oil and gas sites maintain their equipment to monitor levels of this dangerous gas.

While the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires employers to provide employees with the protective equipment and training to do their jobs safely, some may still put their employees at risk. If you or a loved one was harmed by chemical exposure while working in the oil and gas industry, you have the right to take legal action against negligent employers. By exploring your legal options, you can hold employers responsible and get the compensation you need to care for your health.