Crude Oil Chemicals, Solvents Tied to Heart Ailments

Not surprisingly, the <"">health effects of the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill continue to claim victims. This time, said Science Daily, an emerging study reveals that fetal exposure to one of the chemicals found in crude oils is linked with increased risks for congenital heart disease (CHD).

The study was presented late last week at the Pediatric Academic Societies (PAS) yearly meeting and indicated that infants exposed, in utero, to this chemical, which can be found in cleaning agents and spot removers, were at increased risk said Science Daily. CHD has been suspected with certain environmental exposures; lab studies with animals point to some chemicals causing CHD, a heart structure and function problem caused by prenatal abnormal cardiac development, wrote Science Daily.

“Congenital heart disease is a major cause of childhood death and life-long health problems,” said D. Gail McCarver, MD, FAAP, quoted Science Daily. Dr. McCarver is the study’s lead author and professor of pediatrics at the Medical College of Wisconsin and Children’s Research Institute, Milwaukee. “Thus, identifying risk factors contributing to CHD is important to public health,” Dr. McCarver added.

Dr. McCarver and her team were looking at human fetal exposure to solvents and if exposure increases the risk for CHD. The team tested samples of meconium—fetal stool—from 135 newborns diagnosed with and 432 newborns diagnosed without CHD, wrote Science Daily. For this study, 17 compounds were measured in meconium with testing methods typically used to “detect very low levels of chemicals.” Data collected also included family histories for CHD; mothers’ use of alcohol, tobacco, drugs, and vitamins; and mother and infant racial information, wrote Science Daily.

There are chromosomal defects linked to CHD. Infants with this abnormality and infants borne to diabetic mothers were excluded, said Science Daily, which added that the results indicated that 82 percent of the babies tested positive for intrauterine exposure to at least one of the solvents tested. The study found white babies exposed in utero to ethyl benzene experienced a four-fold increased risk of CHD. Exposure to trichloroethylene was associated with CHD risks, as well: A two-fold increased risks in white infants and an eight-fold increased risk in black infants, said Science Daily.

“This is the first report that exposure to ethyl benzene, a compound present in crude oil, was associated with CHD,” Dr. McCarver said, quoted Science Daily. “The association with ethyl benzene exposure is concerning, particularly considering recent oil spills,” she added.

The BP oil spill began on April 20, 2010 with an explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon oil rig that killed 11 men. Attempts to staunch the gusher failed, until a cap was successfully deployed over the undersea well on July 15. By that time, roughly 4.4 million barrels of oil had spilled into the Gulf of Mexico. The BP oil spill, which now ranks as the largest offshore oil disaster in U.S. history, paralyzed important segments of the Gulf Coast’s economy, including seafood and tourism.

During the BP oil spill cleanup, more than a million gallons of oil dispersants were used with unknown health consequences, something that hadn’t occurred in previous oil spills. There are over 200 chemicals in oil, many of which are toxic, including the carcinogen benzene.

This recent study adds weight to ongoing worries regarding both benzene and trichloroethylene (TCE). “This is of particular importance because TCE is a commonly used degreasing agent… TCE also has been the most common chemical identified around hazardous waste sites,” Dr. McCarver said, quoted Science Daily.

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