Health Effects of Petroleum Coke

What is petroleum coke?

Petroleum coke, also called pet coke or petcoke, is a solid carbon material that resembles coal; it is a product of oil refining.

What are the health risks of petroleum coke?

Significant quantities of fugitive dust from pet coke storage and handling operations present a health risk. EPA is particularly concerned about particles that are 10 micrometers in diameter or smaller (referred to as PM10) because those are the particles that generally pass through the throat and nose and enter the lungs. Once inhaled, these particles can affect the heart and lungs and cause serious health effects. The air quality monitoring equipment installed by KCBX at its North and South facilities continuously measures concentrations of particulate matter 10 micrometers and smaller.

close up view of a pet coke pile
Close-up view of a pet coke pile on Chicago's south side.

Petroleum coke is 90% elemental carbon and 3% to 6% elemental sulfur; the rest is elemental hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen. There are also trace amounts of metals and organic compounds. While trace amounts of toxic materials have been measured in petroleum coke, studies on rats show that petroleum coke itself has a low level of toxicity and that there is no evidence of carcinogenicity.

EPA’s research does not suggest that petroleum coke poses a different health risk than PM10.

Detroit Bulk Storage

In 2013, the City of Detroit had a similar issue; residents were concerned about pet coke storage and handling facilities. Michigan Department of Environmental Quality conducted analyses of the constituents of pet coke, and of potential health effects. The following reports are from those analyses.

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