Oil spills in the St. Lawrence River
Health tips

Did you know ?

Petroleum products come from natural sources. When rafined, they have a number of everyday uses. Each year, more than 15 million tons of petroleum products are handled by ships in Quebec. Oil spills in watercourses may affect the environment, socio-economic activities and public health.


The Canadian Coast Guard enforces measures against pollution caused by petroleum products in the marine environment.

In Quebec, Municipal Authorities are responsible for the safety of their population. In the event of an oil spill, municipalities can look to Les Directions de santé publique (DSP's) for advice on health matters. The DSP's can issue public advisories on the risks to which the public and workers may be exposed and the measures they can take to protect themselves.

Health risks

There are three possible exposure pathways to petroleum products:

  • Inhalation (respiratory tract
  • Ingestion (mouth, digestive system)
  • Skin absorption (skin contact)

Side effects depend on the type of product spilled and how long the person was exposed and they may be more severe for some people.

Possible symptoms include headaches, irritation of the eyes, skin and respiratory tract, and stomach aches in cases of ingestion.

Although some petroleum products are considered to be toxic and carcinogenic, the probability of such ide effects occurring is practically nil, since exposure time is generally short.

Tips for preventing exposure

  • Avoid contaminated areas.
  • Do not let children play near contaminated areas.
  • Make sure your pets do not go near contaminated areas. They could carry petroleum product residue into your home.
  • Close doors and windows if you detect odours. It is recommended that you stay indoors until you receive further instructions from your municipality or DSP.
  • Follow drinking water advisories issued by authorities.
  • Follow advisories issued on the consumption of fish, shellfish and any other seafood.

If you have been exposed - First aid

  • Inhalation: do not stay in the contaminated area. Go to a room and close the windows and doors (confinement).
  • Ingestion: the person should not vomit.
  • Skin contact: it is recommended that the skin be washed immediately with vegetable oil. Avoid solvents and gasoline.
  • Eye contact: rinse or flush eyes with lukewarm water for at least 20 minutes.

For help, contact the


at 1 800 463-5060

Shoreline clean-up

Do not try to clean up the petroleum products directly. Specialized teams will use appropriate clean-up methods to prevent the destruction of shorelines and the environment.

These informations are published under the Canadian Coast Guard's Community Action Program.

For additional information on marine spills, consult the Environmental Response section of the Canadian Coast Guard National website.

Collaboration : Canadian Coast Guard, Institut national de la santé publique du Québec and Centre anti-poison du Québec.