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CRC CARE: Health screening levels for petroleum hydrocarbons in soil and groundwater

Why have health-based screening levels (HSLs) for petroleum hydrocarbons been developed?

The health-based screening levels (HSLs) for petroleum hydrocarbons was developed by the CRC CARE to address an identified need for consistent human health risk assessment of petroleum hydrocarbon contamination in Australian conditions. HSLs represent the best collective view of the available science and application of Australian approaches on the selection of health criteria and exposure parameters.

Who are CRC CARE?

CRC CARE (the Cooperative Research Centre for Contamination Assessment and Remediation of the Environment) is a multi-partner research organization at the forefront of research and technology development for the assessment, remediation and prevention of soil, water and air contamination. It was launched in 2005 as part of the Australian Government’s Cooperative Research Centres Program, and in 2011, it successfully bid for a further nine years of funding. The CRC Program supports industry-led collaborations between industry, researchers and the community. It’s a proven model for linking researchers with industry to focus on research and development towards use and commercialization. By bringing together stakeholders, CRC CARE ensures that researchers work on solving the problems that industry needs solving (Choppala, Bolan, Megharaj, Chen, & Naidu, 2012).

How are HSLs developed?

The HSLs have been developed with the intention that they are used as Tier 1 screening levels protective of public health. The HSLs are based on the best scientific judgment within the established policy setting. The HSLs have been derived using current approaches to assessment for non-threshold (cancer) risk and threshold (non-cancer) risk. Exposure factors for the individual carcinogenic and non-carcinogenic compounds of concern were derived from a near-final draft of enHealth (The Environmental Health Standing Committee). 

What are the chemicals of concern?

The petroleum products are complex mixtures of a range of hydrocarbons and other compounds. As a result of the complex nature of the petroleum products, it is challenging to rigorously access the concentration and risk associated with each component of the petroleum products. Consequently, soil and groundwater health-based screening levels (HSLs) have been developed for a limited range of indicator chemicals from petroleum hydrocarbons that pose the highest potential risk to human health. The indicator chemicals selected as chemical of potential concern include

  • Benzene
  • Toluene
  • Ethylbenzene
  • Xylene
  • Naphthalene

Where are HSLs used?

The HSLs and the underlying methodology may be used for health risk assessment purposes in the context of the broader site assessment framework for petroleum hydrocarbon contamination provided in the Assessment of Site Contamination National Environmental Protection Measure (NEPM) as varied in Australian conditions. 

For more information on health-based screening levels (HSLs), you can use the fantastic resource available on the environmental standards page of the website to search and use environmental standards and guidelines. Environmental Standards are available for air, water and soil for the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, United Kingdom, Holland and from the World Health Organization 


Choppala, G. K., Bolan, N. S., Megharaj, M., Chen, Z., & Naidu, R. (2012). The influence of biochar and black carbon on reduction and bioavailability of chromate in soils. Journal of Environmental Quality, 41(4), 1175-1184. Retrieved

Friebel, E., & Nadebaum, P. (2011). Health screening levels for petroleum hydrocarbons in soil and groundwater. Part 1. Technical development document. CRC for Contamination Assessment and Remediation of the Environment. Technical Report No., 10. Retrieved from file:///D:/Dropbox/My%20PC%20(DESKTOP-KOFHSRB)/Downloads/CRCCARETechReport10-Part1-Technicaldevelopmentdocument2.pdf