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Hydrocarbon Toxicity is insidious, and very prevalent these days due to the overuse of petrochemicals in our society. Hydrocarbons are very poisonous to humans as we do not posses the ability to reliably detoxify them in most cases. A build up of hydrocarbons in our body will lead to physiological stress, low immune system, leaky gut and eventually chronic or serious
Hydrocarbons are a heterogenous group of organic substances that are primarily composed of carbon and hydrogen molecules. They are quite abundant in modern society. Some of the most commonly ingested hydrocarbons include gasoline, lubricating oil, motor oil, mineral spirits, lighter fluid/naphtha, lamp oil, and kerosene. Other common sources of hydrocarbons include dry cleaning solutions, paint, spot remover, rubber cement, and solvents. In addition, many volatile substances that contain hydrocarbons (eg, glue, propellants) are commonly abused for their euphoric effects.
Toxicity from hydrocarbon ingestion can affect many different organs, but the lungs are the most commonly affected organ. The chemical properties of the individual hydrocarbon determine the specific toxicity, while the dose and route of ingestion affect which organs are exposed to the toxicity. Unlike the aromatic or aliphatic hydrocarbons, the halogenated hydrocarbons tend to cause a wider range of toxicity.
The recreational use of inhaling hydrocarbons and other volatile solvents for the purposes of creating a euphoric state is becoming increasingly common. Several methods are used for this abuse, including "sniffing" (directly inhaling vapors), "huffing" (placing a hydrocarbon-saturated rag over the mouth and nose and then inhaling), or "bagging" (inhaling via a plastic bag filled with hydrocarbon vapors).
Hydrocarbon exposure can be divided into the following 4 broad categories:
• Nonintentional nonoccupational exposure: Accidental ingestions are the most frequent type and commonly involve young children tasting a hydrocarbon. Typically, children do not drink large quantities, as hydrocarbons generally taste bad. Adults and older children occasionally consume a hydrocarbon if liquid is placed in an unlabeled can or bottle resulting in accidental ingestion.
• Recreational exposure: Inhaling of hydrocarbons or other volatile solvents for the purpose of producing a transient state of euphoria is becoming more common. This pattern of use is most common in junior high and high-school aged children.
• Occupational exposure: This type of exposure is most often industrial, where a worker has either a dermal exposure to the liquid or an inhalational exposure to the vapors.
• Intentional: This type of exposure usually involves consuming a large amount of the hydrocarbon as an oral ingestion during a suicide attempt.
• Furniture polish and paints
• Cleaning products
• Paint strippers
• Wood distillates
• Pine oil
1. Methane :
Methane, a gaseous hydrocarbon is a greenhouse gas. Like carbon dioxide it is capable of blocking infra-red and heat waves from escaping earth's surface, thereby causing a heating effect. Human activity has caused an increase in the production of this gas, the main sources of which are decomposition of organic matter under anaerobic conditions, burning of biomass and excessive use of fossil fuels.
About 360 million hectares of rice fields and about 1.2 billion odd heads of ruminating livestock which release methane when they belch or break wind, collectively inject an enormous quantity of methane into the atmosphere. About 400-765 x 1012 gems per year of methane have been estimated to be produced on global scale (Hoffman and Wells, 1987). Methane is oxidized to carbon dioxide and water which adds to carbon dioxide and water content of atmospheric air. Recent studies suggest that methane reacts with stratospheric chlorine to form hydrochloric acid and thus exerts a protective influence on ozone concentration by eliminating the ozone depleting chlorine content from the medium.
2. Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs):
Another group of hydrocarbons which is causing great concern these days is that of Chloral- flour-carbons (CFCs). These are non-toxic, colorless, odorless inert chemicals which persist in the atmosphere for long durations. They can easily be liquefied. These inert chemicals find wide¬spread use in refrigeration, air-conditioners, foam blowing, spray cans and as solvents etc. Though highly persistent in the lower atmosphere, high up in the stratosphere they undergo dissociate under the influence of ultraviolet radiations to yield chlorine atoms which catalytically decompose ozone molecules.
The total world production of these halogenated hydrocarbons has increased from 41 million kg in 1950 to 700 million kg in the year 1980. The use of CFCs in refrigerators and air conditioners involves circulation in a close circuit from where their release is only accidental. However, use of these chemicals in spray cans or aerosol sprays, plastic foam blowing, instant foam shaving creams and as cleaning solvents etc. causes the release of substantial amount of CFCs in the atmosphere on global scale.
Exhausts from automobiles and incomplete combustion of fossil fuels, biomass, plywood etc. generate a good amount of aldehydes most of which are toxic chemicals. Formaldehyde, acetaldehyde and caroling, an unsaturated aldehyde, probably contribute much to the odor, eye and lung irritation produced by the photochemical smog. Formaldehyde usually accounts for about 50% while caroling accounts for about 5% of the total estimated aldehydes present in polluted air.
Two important aspects of formaldehyde have rather recently attracted much public attention Firstly, their presence in indoor atmosphere where it comes from incomplete combustion of wood and fuels, from plywood, from foam insulators and a number of objects in which formaldehyde containing adhesives are used. Many pesticides also contain formaldehyde. Secondly, the finding of nasal cancers in rodents chronically exposed to 3-15 pap of formaldehyde has caused muck concern.
4. Peroxy-Alkyl-Nitrates :
Reactions involving hydrocarbons, particularly aldehydes and oxides of nitrogen in the atmosphere at times result in the formation of compounds like Peroxyacetyl nitrate (PAN) and Peroxybenzonyl nitrate (PBN). These compounds cause acute irritation of eyes-a feature often met with in photochemical or oxidizing type of air pollution. These chemicals have also been implicated in causing various respiratory disorders and in plants they are capable of suppressing photosynthesis and thereby the plant yield.
Though formaldehyde, the simplest member of aldehyde group also forms peroxyformyl nitrate, it is the presence of peroxyacetyl nitrate, formed by acetaldehyde which causes more problems. Peroxybenzonyl nitrate derived from aromatic aldehydes is also of considerable importance in many cases.
5. Aromatic Hydrocarbons :
In general aromatic hydrocarbons are considered to be more toxic than simple aliphatic compounds. Much of aromatic hydrocarbons present in the atmosphere are derived from combustion of fossil fuels such as coal, oil, tar and biomass etc. Edible material such as fish and meat smoked for preservation may contain appreciable quantities of these aromatic compounds. Benzene (C6H6) is the simplest aromatic hydrocarbon used in various industries as solvent and in fuel oils because of its antiknock properties. Of the total amount of hydrocarbons emitted with exhausts of internal combustion engines, benzene may constitute almost 2.0 - 2.5% by volume. About 470,000 tons of benzene was estimated to have escaped into the environment in 1977 alone.
Total daily intake of benzene by humans on an average basis is 1.1 - 1.3 mg of which about 80% comes from air which we breathe. B
6. Poly-Nuclear Aromatic Compounds :
Polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are organic chemicals which possess two or more benzene rings fused together. More than hundred of these compounds have been identified in the environment of which 11 have been shown to be carcinogenic. Three important carcinogenic polynuclear hydrocarbons are: benzopyrene, benzoanthracine and dibenzine. Many of these compounds are produced naturally.
The carcinogenic action of PAHs is due to the formation of strongly electrophilic epoxides which bind to various macro-molecules such as DNA and RNA within the cell. Lung cancer risk multiplies if plenty of PAHs is present in the air which we breathe. Ophthalmic preparation like Kajal and Surma common in many Indian households, contains a significant amount of PAHs (230-250 µg/gm) of which Pyrene is most abundant.
The toxicity of hydrocarbons is directly related to their physical properties, specifically the viscosity, volatility, surface tension, and chemical activity of the side chains. The viscosity is a measure of resistance to flow and is measured in Saybolt Seconds Universal (SSU). Substances with a lower viscosity (SSU < 60, eg, turpentine, gasoline, naphtha) are associated with a higher chance of aspiration. The surface tension is a cohesive force created by van der Waals forces between molecules and is a measure of a liquid's ability to "creep." Like the viscosity, the surface tension is also inversely related to aspiration risk; the lower the viscosity, the higher the risk of aspiration. The viscosity is the single most important chemical property associated with the aspiration risk.
Volatility is the tendency for a liquid to change phases and become a gas. Hydrocarbons with a high volatility can vaporize and displace oxygen, which can lead to a transient state of hypoxia. Not surprisingly, the degree of volatility is directly related with the risk of aspiration. The amount of hydrocarbon ingested has not consistently been linked to the degree of aspiration and hence pulmonary toxicity.
Toxicity from hydrocarbon exposure can be thought of as different syndromes, depending on which organ system is predominately involved. Organ systems that can be affected by hydrocarbons include the pulmonary, neurologic, cardiac, gastrointestinal, hepatic, renal, dermatologic, and hematologic systems. The pulmonary system is the most commonly involved system
Pulmonary complications, especially aspiration, are the most frequently reported adverse effect of hydrocarbon exposure. While most aliphatic hydrocarbons have little GI absorption, aspiration frequently occurs, either initially or in a semidelayed fashion as the patient coughs or vomits, thereby resulting in pulmonary effects. Once aspirated, the hydrocarbons can create a severe pneumonitis.
Hydrocarbon pneumonitis results from a direct toxic affect by the hydrocarbon on the lung parenchyma. The type II pneumocytes are most affected, resulting in decreased surfactant production. This decrease in surfactant, results in alveolar collapse, ventilation-perfusion mismatch, and hypoxemia. Hemorrhagic alveolitis can subsequently occur, which peaks 3 days after ingestion. The end result of hydrocarbon aspiration is interstitial inflammation, intra-alveolar hemorrhage and edema, hyperemia, bronchial necrosis, and vascular necrosis. Rare pulmonary complications include the development a pneumothorax, pneumatocele, or bronchopleural fistula.
CNS toxicity can result from several mechanisms, including direct injury to the brain or indirectly as a result of severe hypoxia or simple asphyxiation.
Many of the hydrocarbons that affect the CNS directly can make their way across the blood-brain barrier because certain hydrocarbons are highly lipophilic. In addition, for individuals who are huffing or bagging, the act of rebreathing can result in hypercarbia, which can contribute to decreased level of arousal.
Prolonged abuse of hydrocarbons can result in white matter degeneration (leukoencephalopathy) and atrophy.  In addition, prolonged exposure to certain hydrocarbons (eg, n -hexane or methyl-n -butyl ketone [MnBK]) can result in peripheral neuropathy, blurred vision, sensory impairment, muscle atrophy, and parkinsonism.
Exposure to hydrocarbons can result in cardiotoxicity.
Most importantly, the myocardium becomes sensitized to the effects of catecholamines, which can predispose the patient to tachydysrhythmias, which can result in syncope or sudden death.
Many of the hydrocarbons create a burning sensation because they are irritating to the GI mucosa. Vomiting has been reported in up to one third of all hydrocarbon exposures.
The chlorinated hydrocarbons, in particular carbon tetrachloride, are hepatotoxic. Usually, the hepatotoxicity results after the hydrocarbon undergoes phase I metabolism, thereby inducing free radical formation. These free radicals subsequently bond with hepatic macromolecules and ultimately cause lipid peroxidation. This metabolite creates a covalent bond with the hepatic macromolecules, thereby initiating lipid peroxidation.
The common histopathologic pattern is centrilobular (zone III) necrosis.
Liver function test results can be abnormal within 24 hours after ingestion, and clinically apparent jaundice can occur within 48-96 hours.
Methylene chloride, a hydrocarbon commonly found in paint remover, is metabolized via the P450 mixed function oxidase system in the liver to carbon monoxide (CO). Unlike other cases of CO exposure, with methylene chloride, CO formation can continue for a prolonged period of time.
Chronic exposure to toluene an aromatic hydrocarbon, can result in a distal renal tubular acidosis and present with an anion gap acidosis (see the Anion Gapcalculator). A patient may have chronic exposure either via an occupational environment or by repeated recreational inhalation.
Prolonged exposure to certain aromatic hydrocarbons (especially benzene) can lead to an increased risk of aplastic anemia, multiple myeloma, and acute myelogenous leukemia. In addition, hemolysis has been reported following the acute ingestion of various types of hydrocarbons
Nausea, vomiting, and sore throat are frequent but are relatively mild.
Local reactions such as a burning sensation in the mouth, pruritus, or a perioral rash are not uncommon and are usually mild.
Diarrhea, melena, and hematemesis are rare.
What Health Effects Are Associated With PAH Exposure?
Signs and Symptoms—Acute Exposure Acute effects attributed to PAH exposure, such as headache, nausea, respiratory and dermal irritation, are probably caused by other agents.
Since PAHs have low acute toxicity, other more acutely toxic agents probably cause the acute symptoms attributed to PAHs. Hydrogen sulfide in roofing tars and sulfur dioxide in foundries are examples of concomitant, acutely toxic contaminants. Naphthalene, the most abundant constituent of coal tar, is a skin irritant, and its vapors may cause headache, nausea, vomiting, and diaphoresis
Signs and Symptoms—Chronic Exposure Effects reported from occupational exposure to PAHs include
• chronic bronchitis,
• chronic cough irritation,
• bronchogenic cancer,
• cutaneous photosensitization
Reported health effects associated with chronic exposure to coal tar and its by-products (e.g., PAHs).
• Skin: erythema, burns, and warts on sun-exposed areas with progression to cancer. The toxic effects of coal tar are enhanced by exposure to ultraviolet light.
• Eyes: irritation and photosensitivity.
• Respiratory system: cough, bronchitis, and bronchogenic cancer.
• Gastrointestinal system: leukoplakia, buccal-pharyngeal cancer, and cancer of the lip.
• Hematopoietic system: leukemia (inconclusive) and lymphoma
Genitourinary system: hematuria and kidney and bladder cancers.
Exposure is most often determined based on the patient exposure history.
A relevant patient history might include the following information:
• occupational history,
• occupation of the spouse and other household members,
• use of medications, including coal tar-containing dermatologic preparations,
• diet, especially charbroiled meats,
• alcohol consumption; and
• smoking habits.
Hobbies and recreational activities might reveal additional evidence of exposure to PAH-containing mixtures.
In general, risk increases with total dose.
Self-care advice creates awareness and suggests actionable behaviors that may reduce the risk of PAH overexposure and PAH related disease.
- Stop smoking and avoid exposure to smoke. Smoking and exposure to second hand smoke increase the risk of lung cancer.
Cigarette smoke contains PAHs and other carcinogenic substances. Exposure to PAHs by smoking or second hand smoke may increase the risk of overexposure to PAHs and PAH related disease.
- Minimize dietary PAH exposures.
The FDA has not published PAH “safe levels” for foodstuffs. However, given that PAHs in food increase the exposure dose and risk of adverse health effects, efforts to minimize dietary contributions would be prudent
- Foods that may contain PAHs include
• charbroiled, chargrilled, and smoked meats and fish,
• roasted peanuts,
• refined vegetable oil,
• rye, and
- Minimize hobby, recreational, and home/outdoor PAH exposures. Awareness of potential PAH exposure through hobbies, recreational, and home/outdoor scenarios and taking action to minimize or avoid exposure may decrease the risk of PAH overexposure.
Wearing gloves when working with cutting oils (as well as other PAH-containing substances encountered in hobbies, recreational, and home/outdoor scenarios) and avoiding outdoor burning practices are some examples of behaviors that would decrease total PAH exposure dose.
Specific natural detoxification of hydrocarbons is essential if health is to be regained. Prolonged exposure to hydrocarbons predisposes the patient to serious and chronic disease.
In this practice we specialize in safe and effective natural detoxification regimes.