The biggest oil spill in history might be over but the consequences remain and will persist for a long, long time. We are all aware of the detrimental effects of the spill on plant and animal life and the environment. However, less is known about the potential health hazards of the spill. Medscape interviewed Dr. Vikas Kapil, Associate Director for Science for the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Response at the CDC in Atlanta, Georgia. Here are some info from the interview:
Who are at greatest risk?
- Workers at the spill who help in the cleaning up operations are the ones most at risk.
- People residing on the shoreline close to the spill may also be at risk, though to a much lesser degree.
What are the potential hazards?
Here are some of the potential sources of hazards of the oils spill:
- Chemicals such as
Benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, xylenes, and other VOCs
Naphthalene and other polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.
- Particulate matter (PM) that may be produced when crude oil is intentionally burned before it reaches the shore. PM exposure poses health risk to people with asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or heart disease.
- · Physical hazards that would include
•Heat stress due to the high temperatures and humidity;
- · Health hazards associated with dispersants used to break down the oil, which can cause:
•Defatting and drying of the skin and possibly dermatitis, as a result of prolonged contact with the skin;
What are the preventive and safety measures that one should take to avoid these hazards?
- Oil spill workers should strictly use protective gear and follow safety procedures.
- · People who may be exposed to burning oil smoke and PM are given the following advice:
•They can choose to leave the area. Those at greatest risk of breathing smoke should evacuate.
•They can limit their exposure to smoke by remaining indoors and using an air conditioner to filter the air. If available, air conditioning units should be set to “recirculation mode.” Those without access to an air conditioner may wish to evacuate until the smoke is completely gone.
- Dust masks, bandanas, or other cloths — even if wet — will not protect against smoke inhalation.
The EPA is continuously monitoring the air quality in the area. Water supplies, however, are not at risk for contamination. The Department of Health and Human Services has set up an oil spill distress helpline
Other resources that you can check out: