An Introduction to Lubricant toxicity

Lubricants are a very common fluid found in the industrial or commercial workplace. Their use is without a doubt vital to the success of any piece of equipment or machinery; however, these fluids are at their purest form chemicals and additives that are meticulously chosen to produce a fluid that keeps engines running smoothly and gears turning. According to an article form Machinery Lubrication Base oils are grouped into five different groups that quantify their total carcinogenicity, as designated by The American Petroleum Institute or API.

Group1: These are lubricants with sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity to humans. This group includes base oils that are acid-treated oils, mildly retreated solvent-refined oils, aromatic oils, and mildly hydro-treated oils.

Group 2: These are lubricants with no human data, but strong animal data exist that indicate possible or probable carcinogenicity. There are no bad oils listed in this group.

Group 3: These are lubricants not classifiable as to carcinogenic to humans. They include base oils that are white oils and petrolatum.

Group 4: These are lubricants that are probably not carcinogenic to humans. This group includes base oils that are white oils and petroleum.

Group 5: These are all other oils including vegetable oils and natural esters.

These classifications are based on a measure of carcinogen levels found within the mixture. According to, a Carcinogen is an agent that facilitates the growth of cancer. Cancer is defined as an uncontrolled division of cells caused by a mutation within the DNA of the cell. Carcinogens facilitate the mutation of the cells by either causing the mutation of the cell or increasing the rate at which cells multiply, increasing the permutations that may cause a change in DNA makeup.

Most petroleum-based lubricants are created with polyalphaolefins (PAOs). “The term synthetic” came about in the 60’s when PAOs were first introduced. Synthetic oils are considered harmless and contain no carcinogens.

Other than cancer-causing agents, toxic components found in petroleum make ingesting a lubricant a very dangerous and poisonous endeavor. Motor oil and hydraulic fluids belong to a large class of compounds called hydrocarbons. Hydrocarbons are an organic compound consisting entirely of hydrogen and carbon. Most hydrocarbons found on Earth naturally occur in crude oil, where decomposed organic matter provides an abundance of carbon and hydrogen which, when bonded, can catenate to form seemingly limitless chains.

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According to an article from on hydrocarbons, Hydrocarbons In their simplest form, hydrocarbons are combinations of carbon and hydrogen atoms”. There are many varieties of hydrocarbons, but all hydrocarbons tend to feel oily to the touch when in their liquid state. When these oily substances are swallowed, the worry is that they can slip into the airway or be inhaled later during the process of vomiting. This is called aspiration, which can be very irritating and lead to infection. The airway is right next to the food pipe, and the close proximity is the reason aspiration happens. The ease of which a substance can flow is the characteristic known as viscosity. Low viscosity (thinner) hydrocarbons are more likely to be aspirated than high viscosity (thicker) hydrocarbons.

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-The SC Fuels Team

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