BP Oil Spill Health Impact Hard to Measure

The emotional and physical health effects of theBP oil spill continue to linger, nearly a year after the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico. Even worse, Gulf Coast residents and<"http://www.yourlawyer.com/topics/overview/BP-Oil-Spill-Cleanup-Workers-Injuries-Lawsuit"> BP oil spill clean-up workers could feel the disaster’s effects for years.

The BP disaster resulted in 200 million gallons of crude oil spilling into the Gulf of Mexico. During the cleanup, more than a million gallons of oil dispersants were used with unknown health consequences, something that hadn’t occurred in previous oil spills. A review published in The New England Journal of Medicine considered these hazards in trying to ascertain what health problems might plague Gulf Coast residents and BP oil spill cleanup workers.

The review found that the likelihood of serious long-term problems from components of the oil is low for residents and onshore cleanup workers. But the review authors expressed concern about the cleanup workers who operated offshore, who would have been more directly exposed to crude oil and dispersants, as well as children. There haven’t been many studies conducted on people who have worked in such conditions, according to the review. Likewise, there is also little data assessing the effect of oil spill exposure on children.

As we’ve reported in the past, BP oil spill cleanup workers have already complained of respiratory ailments, dizziness, elevated blood pressure, rashes and chemical burns from coming in contact with the toxic materials. Components in both the crude oil and in the chemical dispersants in certain doses have been shown to cause birth defects, cancer and other long-term disorders.

The review also raised concerns about the psychological effects of the BP oil spill on workers and Gulf Coast residents. Some symptoms reported among people in the area, including headaches, pains and insomnia, are also associated with stress and anxiety. Economic uncertainty wrought by the spill could exacerbate post-traumatic stress, and fear about the toxic effects of dispersants probably led to some of the psychological health problems, the authors wrote.

Because this spill was unlike any others, long-term health affects are hard to predict, the review authors cautioned. The intensity of exposure as well as the duration of exposure will likely mean different outcomes compared to earlier oil spills.

The review authors also faulted the federal government’s delay in studying the spill’s health effects, which they said would make it difficult to interpret data with accuracy. This year, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences announced the beginning of a 10-year study of the health of cleanup workers and volunteers that according to the review was not financed until six months after the April 20, 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion. Lack of baseline data on workers will make it even more difficult to draw definitive conclusions.

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