Toxic oil syndrome

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Toxic oil syndrome
Classification and external resources
Specialty rheumatology
ICD-10 M35.8
ICD-9-CM 710.5
DiseasesDB 32044

Toxic oil syndrome or simply toxic syndrome (Spanish: síndrome del aceite tóxico or síndrome tóxico) is a musculoskeletal disease most famous for a 1981 outbreak in Spain which killed over 600 people and was likely caused by contaminated colza oil. Its first appearance was as a lung disease, with unusual features: though the symptoms initially resembled a lung infection, antibiotics were ineffective. The disease appeared to be restricted to certain geographical localities, and several members of a family could be affected, even while their neighbours had no symptoms. Following the acute phase, a range of other chronic symptoms was apparent.


The cause was traced to the consumption of colza oil that had been intended for industrial rather than food use.[1] It had been imported as cheap industrial oil by the company RAPSA at San Sebastián, handled by RAELCA and refined by ITH in Seville. It was sold as "olive oil" by street vendors at weekly street markets and was therefore used on salads and for cooking. The commonly accepted hypothesis states that toxic compounds derived during the refinement process, used to remove the aniline and to denature oils intended for industrial use, were responsible.

Once the origin of the syndrome was realised, public health officials organized an exchange programme, whereby those who had bought the oil could exchange it for pure olive oil, thereby quickly ending the outbreak.

The conclusion that oil was the cause for TOS is based on strong epidemiological evidence, since up to now, experimental studies performed in a variety of laboratory animals have failed to reproduce the symptoms of human TOS. None of the in vivo or in vitro studies performed with toxic-oil-specific components, such as fatty acid anilides and esters of PAP, have provided evidence that these markers are causally involved in the pathogenesis of TOS.[2]

The fact that the first cases of the syndrome were located in Madrid, near the U.S. military base in Torrejón de Ardoz, and the secrecy surrounding the huge investigations, spread the idea of a conspiracy. Several of those affected by the TOS claim they never consumed that oil. Although the oil was mainly sold on street markets, a considerable percentage of the patients were upper class. Another theory suggests the toxic reaction was triggered by organophosphate poisoning and covered up by the Spanish Government and the WHO.[3]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "A Long Trial in Spain on Fatal Tainted Food". New York Times. August 2, 1987. 
  2. ^ Toxic Oil Syndrome - 10 Years of Progress
  3. ^ Woffinden, Bob (August 25, 2001). "Cover-up". The Guardian (London). 

External links[edit]