The devastating BP oil spill has been ongoing since the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon on April 20th, 2010 off the coast of Louisiana. We have seen countless images of wildlife affected by this tragedy, and tremendous efforts by the more than 20,000 workers dispatched to clean the oil and its remnants from the environment. The workers are outfitted with protective gear, but nothing is perfect. Residents of the affected area have no protection from the oil and the chemicals used in the dispersants used to clean it up. This article takes a look at some of the potential health effects this oil spill may have on workers and residents.
While little is known about what the exact impact oil spills have on a person’s health, there are some things that people will experience. Of all the oil spills that have occurred since the 1960s, 7 major spills have been studied. The studies that were conducted have shown evidence that workers and residents face ocular, neurological and dermal exposure, even with the protective safety equipment that the workers are equipped with. The CDC states that the oil is merely irritating, and touching or even swallowing it is not too dangerous. Dr. John Howard of the CDC stated, “Swallowing small amounts (less than a coffee cup) of oil will cause upset stomach, vomiting, and diarrhea, but is unlikely to have long-lasting health effects.” While long term effects are unlikely, short term effects can include lung, kidney and liver functions, but only if the toxins are absorbed into the bloodstream in large amounts.
With the toxins that have been released into the air, workers and residents have complained about headaches, coughing, watery eyes, nausea, throat irritation and other mild symptoms which go away when away from the toxins. However, any long term exposure to carcinogens that are contained in the oil can possible produce more chronic effects in people, but studies do not support this possibility. It’s just a potential risk for anyone exposed to carcinogens over a prolonged period of time.
A growing concern however, is the effect this spill may have on the reproductive health of not only the wildlife, but humans as well. Some ingredients in the oils and the dispersants are considered to be endocrine disruptors which interfere with the body’s endocrine system. These disruptors pose a threat to prenatal and early postnatal development when organs and neural systems form. The chemicals have also been linked to miscarriage, premature birth and low birth weight in babies.
In addition to the effects the chemicals can have on a person’s health there is also the added stress that another disaster can cause. The entire Gulf area has been hit with devastating hurricanes in the past few years, and hasn’t fully recovered from those yet. This spill that isn’t over yet is just one more disaster that the area doesn’t need. Stress can lead to depression, behavior problems, drug and alcohol abuse, and domestic violence. Based on the studies and reports, it seems like the effects from stress is going to be the worst effect this spill is going to have on people.
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The Fiscal Times