Gulf Oil Spill Poses Health Risks

As the Deepwater Horizon oil spill grows ever bigger, endangering states along the U.S. Gulf Coast, concerns are growing about the potential health hazards posed by the disaster. According to a Healthday report, some people living along the coast are already reporting worrisome symptoms.

Dr. Gina Solomon, senior scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) told Healthday that the Deepwater Horizon oil spill poses serious risks. They include acute health effects from the air pollution from the oil itself, as well as from efforts to burn off the oil. Other hazards include contamination of the food chain which can result in a long-term health concerns, Solomon said.

Robert Emery, vice president for safety, health, environment and risk management at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, concurred. “Certainly uncontrolled exposure to crude oil could be potentially hazardous,” he told Healthday.

Already, there has been an uptick in people along the Gulf Coast complaining of symptom like headaches, nausea, coughing and throat irritation. These symptoms are typical when oil vapors are inhaled.

According to the NRDC, inhaling 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.

Though clean up crews face the most immediate danger, individuals don’t have to be in direct contact with the oil to face hazards. The general public could face incidental exposure, and food supplies, like shellfish, could be contaminated, Emery told Healthday.

Exposure to benzene and other chemicals found in oil can also cause longer-term effects, including the potential for miscarriage or low birth weight in pregnant women, Healthday said. People with underlying respiratory conditions such as emphysema or asthma, are also at increased risk of health problems from the spill.

Emery told Healthday that to limit risks, people who come into direct contact with the spill should wash it off immediately. The NRDC recommends that clean-up workers or anyone who has been near the spill remove their shoes or boots before entering a home. Children should be kept away from beaches or anywhere else they could come into direct contact with the spill.

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