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Toll of Deepwater Oil Spill on Human Health Still Unknown
Date:4/6/2011

By Amanda Gardner
HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, April 6 (HealthDay News) -- The true health toll of the massive Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico last spring may never be known, a new review suggests.

Although a large study being conducted by the U.S. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) should provide some answers, it was started six months after the incident so initial levels of exposure to various chemicals may not be precisely recorded.

"The major study looking at the health effects didn't get into the field until this January," said review author Dr. Bernard Goldstein. "It's going to be hard to get that exposure information without at least some noise in it and making it that much more difficult to see cause-and-effect."

The review is published in the April 7 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

"Many scientists and community members share the concern expressed by the authors about the delays in implementing the study," said Miriam Rotkin-Ellman, a public health scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council in San Francisco.

That said, she added, "it's not a too-little-too-late thing by any stretch of the imagination. This needs to be implemented to evaluate the current health status of the folks who were on the front lines."

As many as 200 million gallons of crude oil may have spilled into the Gulf of Mexico after BP's Deepwater Horizon rig exploded and sank on April 20, 2010. The accident quickly eclipsed the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill in magnitude.

More than 50,000 workers were involved in the clean-up effort, which differed from previous similar disasters in a number of ways, not the least of which was the release of more than a million gallons of oil dispersants with unknown health consequences.

"The magnitude of the spill, the 55,000 workers, this is a huge number of people drawn from a large geographic area doin
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