Sea Near BP Oil Spill Polluted With Cancer Causing Chemicals

The April 20 explosion aboard The Deepwater Horizon oil rig spawned what now ranks as the worst oil spill in US history. In addition to killing 11 men aboard the rig, the explosion caused more than 4 million barrels of oil to spew into the Gulf of Mexico until the well was finally contained on July 15.

As we’ve previously noted, crude oil contains components, such as benzene, naphthalene, and toluene, all toxic to humans. Benzene is known to cause leukemia, while napthalene is a suspected human carcinogen. Benzene and toluene, along with xylene, another component of oil, can also cause respiratory irritation and affect the central nervous system. Oil also releases hydrogen sulfide gas, which can damage the brain and central nervous system as well as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which are considered likely carcinogens.

Now, writes Reuters, researchers at Oregon State University (OSU) said yesterday that they just found what was described as “alarming levels” of carcinogenic toxins in the area of the Gulf of Mexico impacted by the spill. The team discovered significantly increased levels of an array of chemicals, including cancer-causing toxins, in the waters off Louisiana’s coast this August, when a sampling was last taken, said Reuters. Of note, added Reuters, this sampling was taken after BP capped its damaged cap well in mid-July. The implications of this find point to longer term, serious health concerns.

The researchers discovered polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs)—dangerous chemicals and carcinogens—near Grand Isle, Louisiana, said Reuters, at levels 40 times higher than prior to the spill. The researchers pointed out that these life-threatening components could enter the food chain via plankton or fish, wrote Reuters.

“In a natural environment a 40-fold increase is huge,” said Oregon State toxicologist Kim Anderson, who led the research, quoted Reuters. “We don’t usually see that at other contamination sites,” Anderson added. PAH chemicals are typically linked to oils spills, reported Reuters, which noted that PAHs are in their deepest concentrations near the Louisiana Coast and have been seen at levels that are two to three times greater than normal in areas off Alabama, Mississippi, and Florida, which were all impacted by the spill, said Anderson, according to Reuters.

Meanwhile, Arizona Congressman Raul Grijalva told Reuters yesterday that he would push for a Congressional probe into if oil spill volume and environmental risk estimates were altered in a federal report this August. Grijalva chairs a subcommittee looking into wetlands damaged by the spill and said it remained unclear if the report was peer-reviewed and it its estimates are correct, wrote Reuters. “I don’t want to let BP off the hook, and my suspicion is that the numbers may be wrong and that the oil is still a danger,” Grijalva said in an interview with Reuters, which noted that representatives from the oil giant were not immediately available for comment.

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