Modeled Air Pollution from In Situ Burning and Flaring of Oil and Gas Released Following the Deepwater Horizon Disaster

Gregory C Pratt, Mark R. Stenzel, Richard K. Kwok, Caroline P. Groth, Sudipto Banerjee, Susan F. Arnold, Lawrence S. Engel, Dale P. Sandler, Patricia A. Stewart

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations


The GuLF STUDY, initiated by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, is investigating the health effects among workers involved in the oil spill response and clean-up (OSRC) after the Deepwater Horizon (DWH) explosion in April 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico. Clean-up included in situ burning of oil on the water surface and flaring of gas and oil captured near the seabed and brought to the surface. We estimated emissions of PM2.5 and related pollutants resulting from these activities, as well as from engines of vessels working on the OSRC. PM2.5 emissions ranged from 30 to 1.33e6 kg per day and were generally uniform over time for the flares but highly episodic for the in situ burns. Hourly emissions from each source on every burn/flare day were used as inputs to the AERMOD model to develop average and maximum concentrations for 1-, 12-, and 24-h time periods. The highest predicted 24-h average concentrations sometimes exceeded 5000 μg m-3 in the first 500 m downwind of flaring and reached 71 μg m-3 within a kilometer of some in situ burns. Beyond 40 km from the DWH site, plumes appeared to be well mixed, and the predicted 24-h average concentrations from the flares and in situ burns were similar, usually below 10 μg m-3. Structured averaging of model output gave potential PM2.5 exposure estimates for OSRC workers located in various areas across the Gulf. Workers located nearest the wellhead (hot zone/source workers) were estimated to have a potential maximum 12-h exposure of 97 μg m-3 over the 2-month flaring period. The potential maximum 12-h exposure for workers who participated in in situ burns was estimated at 10 μg m-3 over the ~3-month burn period. The results suggest that burning of oil and gas during the DWH clean-up may have resulted in PM2.5 concentrations substantially above the U.S. National Ambient Air Quality Standard for PM2.5 (24-h average = 35 μg m-3). These results are being used to investigate possible adverse health effects in the GuLF STUDY epidemiologic analysis of PM2.5 exposures.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)I172-I187
JournalAnnals of Work Exposures and Health
Issue numberSupplement_1
StatePublished - Apr 1 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study was funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Common Fund and the Intramural Research Program of the NIH, National Institute of Environmental Sciences (ZO1 ES 102945). Additional support through NIEHS grants NIH/NIEHS 1R01ES027027-01 and NIH/NIEHS R01ES030210-01, and National Science Foundation grants NSF DMS-1513654, NSF DMS-1916349 and NSF IIS-1562303

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 The Author(s) 2020. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the British Occupational Hygiene Society.


  • Deepwater Horizon
  • oil spill
  • PMconcentrations
  • PMexposure
  • worker exposure
  • Disasters
  • Humans
  • Petroleum Pollution/analysis
  • Particulate Matter/analysis
  • Air Pollution
  • Occupational Exposure/analysis

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural


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