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 gian
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