Expert Commentary

Health effects of the Gulf oil spill

2010 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association on the impact of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on the health of area residents and workers.

On April 20, 2010, BP’s Deepwater Horizon drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico exploded, leading to the largest oil spill in world history — more than five million barrels. While much of the surface oil dispersed faster than expected after the well was capped in July, undersea plumes linger, as do the spill’s impacts on the environment and human health.

A source for better understanding the oil’s effect on residents and workers is “Health Effects of the Gulf Oil Spill,” published in 2010 in The Journal of the American Medical Association. It indicates that:

  • More than 300 people in Louisiana exposed to the Deepwater Horizon spill have been treated for symptoms associated with excessive exposures to hydrocarbons or hydrogen sulfide.  These include headaches, dizziness, nausea and chest pain.
  • Oil contamination of marine life could also pose future health risks to human through the consumption of large fin fish, shrimps and crabs.
  • Studies on past oil spills have found significant adverse health outcomes on local residents and clean-up workers.  Physical ailments ranged from milder symptoms to more serious outcomes such as acute genetic toxicity and psychological disorders.

The article advocates for heightened precaution to be taken by workers involved in the oil spill clean up to mitigate adverse health outcomes.  In addition, community residents should also be educated on the relevant health hazards associated with consuming fish and shellfish from the contaminated areas.

Tags: oceans, fossil fuels, pollution

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