Louisiana Reports Oil Spill Illnesses

More people who have been exposed to the BP oil spill are falling ill. To date, reports CNN, 162 cases of sickness have been reported to the Louisiana state health department, citing a report released yesterday. Of the 162 cases, 128 involved workers who were either on oil rigs or who were involved in clean-up efforts.

Generally, symptoms involved “throat irritation, shortness of breath, cough, eye irritation, nausea and headaches,” said CNN, citing the department’s oil spill surveillance report. The report, which is released weekly, pulls together information from physicians and various medical facilities. This week’s report stated that since the disaster struck, 120 male and eight female workers and nine men and 25 women from the general public have complained of illnesses allegedly linked to the spill, according to CNN.

The report indicated that those complaining of illness were between the ages of 18 and 64; six illnesses were reported for the week of June 20 and 38 illnesses were reported the first week of June.

Some of the workers reporting illnesses appear to have been exposed to fumes from dispersants that were deployed in the Gulf and most of those who fell ill had been involved in the cleanup, with 23 having worked on the rig, CNN reported. Most of the workers who fell ill went to either an emergency room or urgent care center; 21 were hospitalized.

BP is still being allowed to use high amounts of chemical dispersants in its effort to contain the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, even though the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) told it a month ago to find a less toxic alternative. According to a report in the St. Petersburg Times, those dispersants could be making the oil more toxic, and may be helping to distribute it to a more widespread area.

As we reported previously, BP has been using a line of dispersants called Corexit.
Approval for Corexit was rescinded in Britain a decade ago because laboratory tests found them harmful to sea life that inhabits rocky shores. Safety documents for the Corexit chemicals warn that they must be handled with great care in their original form, should not touch the skin, and can damage lungs. The documents state that the potential environmental hazard is “moderate,” but “low” when used as directed at sea.

Meanwhile, in a related situation, the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals Secretary Alan Levine asked Monday that BP pay $10 million for the purposes of paying for “six months of mental health services to people affected by the spill,” reported CNN.

“There exists anger, anxiety and uncertainty among the families and communities affected by the spill, which will easily manifest into addiction and various forms of mental health crisis if not confronted,” Levine wrote in a letter to Doug Suttles, BP’s Chief Operating Officer.

Teams have counseled nearly 2,000 people in those areas affected by the BP spill, the worst in U.S. history. Counselors report that people are complaining of “increases in anxiety, depression, stress, grief, excessive drinking, earlier drinking and suicidal ideation,” according to Levine.

“These are early warning signs of developing substance abuse and dependence, mental illness, suicide and familial breakdown including divorce, spouse abuse and child abuse and neglect,” he added.

Separately, Catholic Charities is seeking $3.2 million, also for six months of mental health services, wrote Levine.

Levin has asked Suttles to respond to his request within one week.

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