Health risk assessment after decontamination of the beaches polluted by the wrecked ERIKA tanker

Publié le 1 December 2003
Mis à jour le 10 septembre 2019

Following the wreck of the oil tanker ERIKA off the north-west coast of France in December 1999, cleaning up of the beaches involved considerable work, which in any case could not be perfect. This raised the question of the short- and long-term health risks for the future bathers related to the toxicity of the remaining oil polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). This risk assessment study was conducted to help health authorities plan risk management policies and inform the public. Thirty-six beaches were selected, representing a sample of the most frequently encountered topographic and beach usage situations; seven "control" beaches, unspoiled by ERIKA, were also investigated. Samples of water and sand were taken from each site, as well as from the surface of rocks. The 16 PAHs selected by the U.S. EPA were quantified in each environment. Several scenarios of exposure were contemplated: a child between 2 and 4 years accidentally ingesting a small ball of fuel, a child daily exposed throughout his holiday-time stay, an adult (including a pregnant woman) spending his/her holidays on the coast, an adult working on the beach, and an adult practicing water sports. Among the available and significant toxicological values, the most conservative ones were selected for computing risks. The sand and water, after decontamination, were slightly polluted (respectively, 7.8 microg/kg and 23.3 ng/l of total 16 PAHs), with values similar to those found in the control beaches. By contrast, the rocky areas in some places were still highly polluted (up to 23 mg/kg on the surface layer). No lethal risk was found for a young child who had accidentally ingested a small ball of fuel. The life-long excess risks for skin cancer and for all other cancers were about 10-5 in scenarios including contact with the polluted rocks. In all other cases, excess risks were considerably lower. The hazard quotient for teratogenic effects was very small, except in scenarios where pregnant women would walk among rocks containing high pollution levels. In conclusion, exposure was mainly associated with polluted water among children, and with spoiled rocks for adults. Despite uncertainties, mainly dealing with the prediction of long-term risks following a short-term exposure, this study showed that beaches where pollution was no longer visible after decontamination did not entail any significant health risks and could be opened to the public.

Auteur : Dor F, Bonnard R, Gourier Frery C, Cicolella A, Dujardin R, Zmirou D
Risk analysis, 2003, vol. 23, n°. 6, p. 1199-208