BP and the U.S. Coast Guard have said dehydration, heat, food poisoning or other unrelated factors may have caused the workers' symptoms. The Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals is investigating, the Associated Press reported.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reports that "air quality levels for ozone and particulates are normal on the Gulf coastline for this time of year." But, the agency added, it has detected some "odor-causing pollutants associated with petroleum products along the coastline at low levels." These chemicals could cause headache, nausea and throat irritation.
There have been few studies that have examined the long-term health risks of exposure to oil. Brief contact with small amounts of light crude oil and dispersants aren't thought to be harmful, the AP reported. But, extended exposure to dispersants can cause central nervous system problems, or damage to the blood, the kidney, or the liver, and leave a metallic taste in the mouth, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The unprecedented size and duration of this spill makes it unsettling, Solomon said.
"It's pretty much in every sense a historical spill," Solomon said. "Previous spills have all happened over a relatively short period of time and then the clean-up effort has mostly been on what's called weathered oil" -- oil that's been floating on the surface of water for some period of time.
"In this case, we still have fresh oil bubbling up from underwater, which is a completely different situation than has ever been seen before," she said. "Approximately 40 percent of crude oil evaporates within several hours of reaching the surface of the water. It ends up airborne. It's really a problem for people who are working out there, especially those closest to where oil is surfacing."
Clean-up workers are being advi
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