BP Oil Spill Continues to Take Physical, Mental Toll on Those Impacted

The BP oil spill continues to make people sick. And now, evidence of the mental toll the oil spill is taking on people living in affected communities is starting to become apparent.

According to the Alabama Department of Public Health, since mid-May, 110 people have gone to local emergency rooms, clinics and urgent care centers in that state with complaints thought to be related to the oil spill. Fifty of the patients complaining of oil-caused symptoms were exposed via inhalation, 26 by contact, three through ingestion, nine patients reported multiple exposures, and 22 were exposed indirectly, the Department said.

The Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals has now reported 324 cases of oil-related ills. Two hundred and forty-one of those cases involved workers on oil rigs or workers involved in the oil spill clean-up efforts, while 83 were reported by the general public. Common complaints include headache, dizziness, nausea, weakness or fatigue, and throat irritation.

According to the National Resources Defense Council, various components of crude oil, such as benzene, toluene and polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons, presents risks. All are known carcinogens. Other components of oil, like mercury and lead, are also toxic. There are also concerns that the dispersants BP is using in unprecedented amounts to break-up the spill could be toxic as well.

The oil spill is also hurting the mental health of many people along the Gulf Coast. Faced with the loss of livelihoods and businesses, the stress is starting to show in many communities. According to a recent report on CNN, officials in affected states say they are expecting a spike in depression, marital problems, family violence, crime, substance abuse and suicides because of the fallout from the disaster.

While few studies have been done to assess the mental health impact of oil spills, public health officials did discover that people in Alaska impacted by the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill suffered effects for up to four years after the spill.

Recently, a survey conducted by Louisiana State University (LSU) found that the spill is causing a great deal of stress for on people living in the state’s coastal communities. According to the survey:

• Nearly 60 percent of the sample population reported feeling almost constant worry about the oil spill during the week before being interviewed.

• More than eight out of 10 respondents worry over family, friends and community survival due to complications caused by the oil spill. Seven in 10 are worried about having to move because of it.

• More than 35 percent reported experiencing headaches or migraines or feeling sick to their stomach some of the time or almost constantly in the week before the interview because of their worry over the oil spill.

• Nearly 43 percent reported being unable to focus on their usual jobs or tasks because of their worry over the situation in the Gulf.

“Right now, the data suggest that significant public health resources may be required to assist residents in the coastal parishes of Louisiana in dealing with the consequences of this disaster,” Professor Troy Blanchard, one of the LSU professors involved in the survey, said of the results.

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