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Gulf Oil Spill Could Threaten Human Health
Date:5/7/2010

Short-term effects include skin and respiratory woes, while longer-term risks are uncertain

FRIDAY, May 7 (HealthDay News) -- The massive oil slick menacing the Gulf of Mexico and now some barrier islands off the coast of Louisiana could prove devastating to the environment while posing risks to public health, experts say.

Some people along the coast are already reporting headaches, nausea, coughing and throat irritation, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental action group.

"Certainly uncontrolled exposure to crude oil could be potentially hazardous," said Robert Emery, vice president for safety, health, environment and risk management at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston.

"There are three things going on," Emery explained. "One is health and safety issues related to the people involved in the clean-up, those most intimately exposed.

"Then, potential exposure to the general public, which is going to be much less but they could have incidental exposure," he said.

"Third up is the potential contamination of the food supply, such as shellfish," Emery added.

History has lessons for the present spill. Following the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound, Alaska in 1989, an estimated 11,000 clean-up workers made 5,600 visits to health clinics that summer for upper respiratory symptoms. That did not include visits for other health problems, according to the Alaska Daily News.

Since the BP offshore oil-rig explosion on April 20, at least 200,000 gallons of oil a day have been pouring into the Gulf of Mexico, the Associated Press reported.

Health-care workers and the general public alike could face risks by inhaling various components of crude oil, such as benzene, toluene and polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons, all of which may cause cancer, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council.


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