Doctors Express Health Concerns on BP Oil Spill

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With 27,000 workers now assigned to cleaning up the oil spill, we wanted to get a good sense of the health concerns involved. The daily concern is the weather conditions. Workers can easily be overcome with heat illnesses in the 100+ degree humid weather while wearing oil protection suits that insulate the heat.

“It is a very dangerous situation,” said Dr. James Diaz, head of environmental and occupational health sciences at the LSU Health Science Center in New Orleans. “People from this area would have an advantage,” Diaz said. “They would be acclimated to the heat and that really helps. People coming from areas that don’t have this heat and humidity are going to have an even worse time with it.”

The World Trade Center cleanup caused many relief workers to become ill with all sorts of strange ailments. Dr. Claudia Miller at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio is noting that oil spill cleanup workers are beginning to show peculiar symptoms:

“What makes it challenging is that patients show up with non-specific symptoms. Headaches, fatigue, problems with memory and concentration, upset stomach, The illness is called “TILT,” or Toxicant-Induced Loss of Tolerance. Patients lose tolerance to household products, medication, or even food after being exposed to chemicals, like burning oil, toxic fumes, or dispersants from the spill. Things like diesel fuel, exposure to fragrances, cleaning agents that never bothered them before suddenly bother them”

Finally, certain methods of the cleanup could endanger relief workers even more. Dr. Philip Harber, a professor at University of California, Los Angeles, said the burning oil could expose workers to toxins that might cause severe respiratory irritation and asthma attacks, depending on how the burns are handled.

Burning oil is a common method of relieving pressure in refinery operations, he said. “But the magnitude is a concern,” said Harber, a lung specialist who’s also the chief of UCLA’s division of occupational and environmental medicine.

The other worry, he said, is if the wind carries off the thick clouds, “there are hundreds of ships in the area, and those workers could have significant exposures and perhaps less protection because the exposures would be unanticipated.” (Full Story – Seattle Times)


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