ENVIS Centre, Ministry of Environment & Forest, Govt. of India

Printed Date: Friday, January 21, 2022


Hydrocarbons are the simplest organic compounds made up of only carbon and hydrogen. Hydrocarbons are the chief constituents of petroleum and natural gas. They serve as fuels and lubricants as well as raw materials for the production of plastics, fibres, rubbers, solvents, explosives, and industrial chemicals. Many hydrocarbons occur naturally in trees and plants in the form of pigments called carotenes that occur in carrots and green leaves but these are not toxic for human beings.
Types of Hydrocarbons are following:
Natural and anthropogenic sources of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).
Some of the uses of Aromatic hydrocarbons are listed below-
  • The green pigment called chlorophyll used for the preparation of food in plants consists of the aromatic hydrocarbons.
  • Aromatic Hydrocarbons are present in the nucleic acids of the human body such as the DNA and amino acids.
  • The aromatic hydrocarbon called Methylbenzene is used as a solvent in model glues.
  • Naphthalene is used in the manufacture of mothballs.
  • Phenanthrene is utilized for the synthesis of drugs, dyes, and explosives.
  • Trinitrotoluene or TNT is widely used as an explosive.
  • Aromatic hydrocarbons are also utilized in the petrochemical industries as well as in plastic industry.
The hydrocarbons can be derived from
  • Petroleum: Include Kerosene, Gasoline and Naphtha.
  • Wood: Include Turpentine and Pine Oil.
The length of the chains as well as the degree of branching determines the phase of the hydrocarbon. At room temperature; most are liquid, but some short-chain hydrocarbons (e.g, butane) are gas at room temperature, whereas other long-chain hydrocarbons (e.g, waxes) are solid at room temperature. Toxicity from hydrocarbon ingestion can affect many different organs, but the lungs are the most commonly affected organ. The chemical properties of the individual hydrocarbon determine the specific toxicity, while the dose and route of ingestion affect which organs are exposed to the toxicity.
Symptoms and Signs of Hydrocarbon toxicity:
After ingestion of even a very small amount of liquid hydrocarbon, patients:
  • Initially cough, choke, and may vomit.
  • Young children may have cyanosis, hold their breath, and cough persistently.
  • Older children and adults may report burning in the stomach.
Source:Tormoehlen LM1, Tekulve KJ, Nañagas KA (2014) Hydrocarbon toxicity: A review. Clin Toxicol (Phila).52(5):479-89.
Some plants species which are tolerant to hydrocarbons are following:
Salix spp.
Pinus spp.
Caesalpinia pulcherrima
Callistemon citrinus
Camellia japonica
Cassia fistula
Ceropegia lawii.
Hibiscus rosa-sinensis
Luculia gratissima
Albizzia lebbek
Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hyperaccumulators_table_%E2%80%93_3