Navigation Links
Gulf Oil Spill Could Threaten Human Health

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.

Crude oil also contains mercury and lead, both of which can be dangerous if inhaled or swallowed, the council stated.

There are also potential dangers to the skin. If crude oil isn't quickly rinsed off the hands and other areas of the body, it can result in redness, swelling or burning or, eventually, even skin and other cancers, the council contends.

If officials decide to burn the oil as it sits in Gulf waters, people could develop, in the short-term, coughing or even chemical burns in the airways. Longer-term effects could include cancer and chronic respiratory problems, Emery said.

There are also dangers from chemicals -- called "dispersants" -- used in the cleanup, Emery said. The solvent used after the Exxon Valdez calamity was limonene, which can cause skin inflammation and asthma, he said.

People with underlying respiratory conditions such as emphysema or asthma, as well as pregnant women and fishermen, are also at increased risk of health problems from the spill, Emery said.

"The general public should minimize any exposure or skin contact with this oil or vapors," Emery advised, although how far vapors travel is highly dependent on wind patterns and temperatures, he added.

If people do come into contact with any of the slick, they should wash it off immediately, Emery said.

The Natural Resources Defense Council recommends that clean-up workers or anyone who has been near the spill remove their shoes or boots before entering a home. And children should be kept away from beaches or anywhere else they could into direct contact with the spill, the council added.

But the health risks -- especially of very serious illness -- should be kept in perspective, said Dr. Jay Brooks, chairman of hematology/oncology at Ochsner Health System in Baton Rouge, La.

"It's still too early to say [what the actual health risks are]," he said. "It's really hard to make these giant leaps of faith that if you eat fish that you're going to get cancer. I think that's very, very difficult to prove. We can't control many things and this is something that the average citizen can't control. The things we can control are tobacco, which has far more carcinogens than eating a fish."

More information

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has more on the Gulf oil spill.

SOURCES: Robert Emery, Dr.P.H., vice president for safety, health, environment and risk management, University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston; Jay Brooks, M.D., chairman of hematology/oncology, Ochsner Health System, Baton Rouge, La.; May 13, 1999, Alaska Daily News; Associated Press

Copyright©2010 ScoutNews,LLC.
All rights reserved

Related medicine news :

1. ESAs Envisat monitors oil spill
2. NASA satellite imagery keeping eye on the Gulf oil spill
3. Envisat monitoring changes in oil spill
4. Road mapping could be key to curing TB
5. What if You Could Help to Influence the NYC Taxi of Tomorrow?
6. Stronger Ozone Standard Could Dramatically Reduce Asthma, Premature Deaths
7. Mechanical forces could affect gene expression
8. Anger Could Ruin Your Relationship
9. New research on type 2 diabetes could benefit young adults with the condition
10. Biomarker could help doctors tailor treatment for rheumatoid arthritis
11. Stress Hormone Could Be Key to Alcoholism
Post Your Comments:
(Date:10/13/2015)... ... October 13, 2015 , ... ... announced today their Title Sponsorship of Synergy 2015. The annual WennSoft KEY2ACT user ... Green Valley Ranch and will unite customers, partners, WennSoft team members and sponsors ...
(Date:10/13/2015)... ... ... Scientists in Seattle and Vancouver compared the diagnostic value of lung fluid ... Mesothelioma has just posted an article on the new research. Click here to ... University of British Columbia found that certain genetic alterations were seen just as often ...
(Date:10/13/2015)... GA (PRWEB) , ... October 13, 2015 , ... ... nonprofit promoting the establishment of telemedicine programs in communities throughout Georgia, along with ... announce the collective schedule for their regional telehealth summits for Fall 2015. ...
(Date:10/13/2015)... ... October 13, 2015 , ... ... new School of Nursing. Dr. McLeod—who earned her Doctor of Nursing Practice from ... education that has spanned four decades. , Dr. McLeod’s long and successful nursing ...
(Date:10/13/2015)... ... October 13, 2015 , ... Local Gold’s Gym franchise owner, ... Conference on August 26. Berry, who owns and operates Gold's Gym Cheyenne ... growing Gold’s Gyms in the United States. A brand leader in global fitness, Gold’s ...
Breaking Medicine News(10 mins):
(Date:10/13/2015)... , Oct. 13, 2015   Rosa & Co. ... in Quantitative Systems Pharmacology (QSP)/ PhysioPD™ , today announced ... lead a workshop at the QSP Congress Meeting ... Boston, MA.  The conference focuses on ... development.  Dr. Friedrich,s workshop is entitled "Using Mechanistic Physiological ...
(Date:10/13/2015)... World Thrombosis Day Interactive Infographic ...   --> World Thrombosis Day Interactive ... promote vital global awareness of thrombosis, its causes, ... the formation of potentially deadly blood clots in ... thromboembolism (VTE) - or the artery (arterial thrombosis) [1] ...
(Date:10/12/2015)... Apheresis is an invasive process that involves ... other components from whole blood. In this procedure, the blood ... apheresis machine or a blood cell separator. The apheresis equipment ... blood components. A selected part of the blood is removed, ... the patient. It involves the use of devices and disposables ...
Breaking Medicine Technology: