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Gulf Oil Spill Workers Report Health Problems
Date:6/3/2010

Flu-like symptoms range from chest pain to dizziness, nausea and headaches

THURSDAY, June 3 (HealthDay News) -- With the giant oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico now in its sixth week, reports of clean-up workers falling ill are on the rise.

"Within the past week, we've seen a number of workers hospitalized. That's new," said Dr. Gina Solomon, a senior scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council.

More than a dozen workers have been treated at local medical centers for flu-like symptoms ranging from chest pain to dizziness, nausea and headaches, presumably due to exposure to different chemicals emanating from the slick, according to news reports.

The Unified Command in Louisiana -- a coalition of government agencies that includes the U.S. Coast Guard, the Department of the Interior and the National Parks Service -- last week called back to shore 125 boats helping with the clean-up after medical complaints from crew members.

"The reports that we've heard from hospitals and doctors have been [that the symptoms are due to] inhaled irritant exposure, but they've not gone so far as to say what exactly they think the responsible agent might be," Solomon said. "The workers are widely blaming the dispersants."

Dispersants are chemicals used for the oil clean-up. The solvent used after the massive 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill off the Alaska coast, for example, was limonene, which can cause skin inflammation and asthma, said Robert Emery, vice president for safety, health, environment and risk management at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston.

"There's no doubt that people are getting sick out there [in the Gulf of Mexico]," Emery said. "The key question is what is it that is causing them to get sick."

BP's Deepwater Horizon exploded and sank in the Gulf of Mexico about 40 miles south of Louisiana on April 20, killing 11 workers and spewing an estimated 21 mi
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