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Volume 6 (2006), Pages 1221-1237
Review Article

Genetic Damage Induced by Accidental Environmental Pollutants

1Toxicology Unit, University of A Coruña, Edificio de Servicios Centrales de Investigación, Campus Elviña s/n, 15071-A Coruña, Spain
2Department of Cell and Molecular Biology, University of A Coruña, Faculty of Sciences, Corampus A Zapateira s/n, 15071-A Coruña, Spain

Received 16 May 2006; Revised 16 June 2006; Accepted 19 June 2006

Academic Editor: Demetrios Matthopoulos

Copyright © 2006 Beatriz Pérez-Cadahía et al.


Petroleum is one of the main energy sources worldwide. Its transport is performed by big tankers following some established marine routes. In the last 50 years a total amount of 37 oil tankers have given rise to great spills in different parts of the world, Prestige being the last one. After the accident, a big human mobilisation took place in order to clean beaches, rocks and fauna, trying to reduce the environmental consequences of this serious catastrophe. These people were exposed to the complex mixture of compounds contained in the oil. This study aimed at determine the level of environmental exposure to volatile organic compounds (VOC), and the possible damage induced on the population involved in the different cleaning tasks by applying the genotoxicity tests sister chromatid exchanges (SCE), micronucleus (MN) test, and comet assay. Four groups of individuals were included: volunteers (V), hired manual workers (MW), hired high-pressure cleaner workers (HPW) and controls. The higher VOC levels were associated with V environment, followed by MW and lastly by HPW, probably due to the use of high-pressure cleaners. Oil exposure during the cleaning tasks has caused an increase in the genotoxic damage in individuals, the comet assay being the most sensitive biomarker to detect it. Sex, age and tobacco consumption have shown to influence the level of genetic damage, while the effect of using protective devices was less noticeable than expected, perhaps because the kind used was not the most adequate.