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2002 Oil Spill May Shed Light on Health Problems for Deepwater Workers
Date:8/24/2010

type of previous injury.

Not surprisingly, fishermen who had had more exposure to fumes and chemicals were more likely to exhibit problems than those who had had less contact. The same appears to be coming true in the Deepwater episode.

Still, there were many differences between the two spills, so any comparisons with the 50,000 workers who have been toiling in and near Deepwater need to be taken with a grain of salt, experts noted.

For one thing, the earlier spill involved a very different type of oil.

"I think the two events were actually very, very different as far as human exposure was concerned, the reason being that the Spanish spill involved bunker fuel, which is a thoroughly nasty mixture of petroleum ingredients that has a lot of volatile components," said Dr. Arch Carson, director of the Occupational and Environmental Medicine Residency program at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston.

Moreover, Carson added, in Spain, "it was fresh oil on the surface of the water that actually washed onto the beaches, and most of the people were exposed to fresh oil."

In the Gulf Coast, he pointed out, most of the oil reaching shore is extremely weathered or in the form of tar balls or asphalt. "Most of the volatile stuff is gone," he said.

Differences between the two events are likely compounded by "the fact that this oil came from a mile down and had to travel through miles of water before it got to surface," Carson explained. "That may sound trivial but in actuality it's very important because moving through that long a water column actually strips quite a bit of components from the oil, and they dissolve in the water."

Also, it's not clear which, if any, dispersants were used in the earlier episode.

A lot of the health troubles already seen in the Gulf have been attributed to dispersants that have been used, said Dr. Carl Boethel, an assistant professor of internal medicine and section chief of
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2002 Oil Spill May Shed Light on Health Problems for Deepwater Workers
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