An investigation of atmospheric exposure arising from oil spills

Date of Award




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Mechanical Engineering

First Committee Member

Kau-Fui Vincent Wong, Committee Chair


When oil is spilled, an offensive cloud of oil fumes will be formed near the spill site. Among the oil fumes, there are many volatile components that are hazardous. Whether these volatile components can pose possible exposure hazards depends on the resultant airborne levels of these vapors.In this work, a mass-transfer model was used to study the evaporation behavior, and a Monte-Carlo particle model was used to investigate the airborne levels of these volatile components. Compared with other modeled data (K-theory), the results from these mathematical models showed consistent trends, and they had overcome the overestimation for the near ground region in the K-theory modeling. The modeled results were also consistent with both previous test results and field observations.Using these verified mathematical models, a series of numerical experiments were performed to investigate the possible airborne levels of the volatile components under various conditions, including worst-case scenarios. The modeled results indicate that exposure to benzene exists during normal conditions. Under these conditions, the overexposure concentrations can occur in the zone of human activity, so posing a danger to the people around the spill site. The exposures to most of the other volatile hydrocarbons besides benzene and n-hexane are negligible, as the region with airborne levels of these volatile components higher than the exposure criteria only exist directly over the oiled surface. No over-exposure airborne levels of these hydrocarbons were found within the human breath zone. The exposure to n-hexane is possible, depending on the exposure limits adopted. Due to its high volatility, a significantly high airborne level of n-hexane can result in the human breath zone. For the sulfur compounds, like hydrogen sulfide, exposure exists, but the duration is very short. Caution against exposure to the sulfur components should be taken immediately after an oil release and when the oil spill is in continuous discharge.


Engineering, Mechanical; Physics, Atmospheric Science; Environmental Sciences; Engineering, Environmental

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