Health effects from the BP oil spill

As the oil continues to pour into the gulf from the BP oil rig, we are witnessing not only an environmental disaster but a potential health crisis too.

It is not just the water that has been impacted the crude can become airborne in tiny particles and carried inland with the breeze. Those working to clean up are particularly at risk, as are pregnant women and people with underlying respiratory illness.

Locals are reporting symptoms of nausea, headaches, respiratory complaints, burning eyes and sore throats, all consistent with exposure to the volatile organic compounds found in the oil. Long term health concerns include neurological disorders and cancer.

After the Exxon Valdez spill, medical complications of liver disease, asthma, emphysema and pancreatic cancer were reported. The oil contains multiple volatile and toxic chemicals. For example, benzene, a recognized carcinogen is poorly soluble in water and because its gaseous form is heavier than air, it can accumulate on the water’s surface.

There are additionally mental health concerns including anxiety and depression from the stress which in turn can lead to alcohol, drug dependency and family discord.

The damage from the spill is sure to be felt for decades to come.

Aldebra Schroll is a family physician who blogs An Apple a Day.

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