Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Degree Granting Department

Public Health

Major Professor

Raymond D. Harbison, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Giffe Johnson, Ph.D.

Committee Member

James McCluskey, M.D., Ph.D.

Committee Member

David Hollander, Ph.D.


atmospheric, exposure assessment, oil refinery, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons


Refinery operations have been associated with a wide variety of atmospheric emissions consisting of criteria air pollutants, volatile organic components, hazardous air pollutants as well as other pollutants. With approximately 100 oil refineries in the Wider Caribbean region (WCR), hydrocarbons in this region pose significant environmental and human health risks. One of the oldest and largest refineries in the WCR is the Isla Refineriá, which is located on the island of Curaçao, and has been the basis of historical debates and conflict between the public and the local government over the environmental and human health risks. This research aims to establish baseline levels of ambient petrochemical emissions in Curaçao, specifically polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), inhalable particulate matter (PM10) and sulfur dioxide (SO2), and to evaluate through comparative literature analysis and recommended public health guidelines the potential health risks in Curaçao. In addition, source elucidation of PAHs was conducted using concentration profiles, distribution profiles, binary diagnostic ratios and factor analysis. Passive air samplers with polyurethane foam collection disks (PAS-PUFs) were deployed in 2011 (n=43) and in 2014 (n=30) to measure ambient PAH concentrations. Ambient PAH concentrations ranged from 1.2 ng/m3 in 2011 and 27.3 to 660.1 ng/m3 in 2014, demonstrating no temporal differences. However, there were highly significant spatial differences, with the samples downwind of the refinery having significantly higher ambient PAH concentrations than those upwind in 2014. Source elucidation revealed the ambient PAHs were dominated by petrogenic emission sources (i.e., refinery) in the 2011 and the 2014 downwind samples, whereas the 2014 upwind locations were equally influenced by both petrogenic (i.e., refinery) and pyrogenic (i.e., vehicle emissions) sources. Available hourly, daily and monthly PM10 and SO2 measurements were downloaded from June 2010 through December 2014 from two local air monitoring stations. Concentrations of both PM10 and SO2 in Curaçao are among the highest reported globally, demonstrating an increasing trend over time and exceed current public health guidelines recommended by local and international agencies. It is plausible that the residents of Curaçao may experience health effects often associated with PM10 and SO2, however the epidemiological evidence is inadequate to infer causality between health effects and long-term exposures. Using the USEPA’s risk analysis methodology the resulting cumulative lifetime cancer risk estimates from PAH inhalation were below the level of concern (1.0 x 10-4). In contrast, by evaluating the potency adjusted concentrations relative to the most toxic compound (benzo[a]pyrene), age class (children and adults) extrapolated and site specific risks indicated levels exceeding the upper bound acceptable risk (1.0 x 10-4) by almost two orders of magnitude suggesting the need for remediation.