Workers helping to clean up the oil spill are at high risk due to direct exposure from chemicals and toxic vapors near areas where the oil plumes are surfacing. Chemical dispersants used by BP in the cleaning process pose health risks as do vapors such as benzene, one of the volatile hydrocarbons in oil. One concern is that BP is using Corexit 9500 as a chemical dispersant. It is toxic at 2.61 PPM (parts per million) and can go through a phase transition from liquid to gas and return to earth as toxic rain. It is estimated the BP has released over 1,000,000 gallons of dispersant.
Crude Oil Exposure
Blanca Laffron, a genetic toxicologist and her colleagues from the University of Coruña in Spain, notes that studies show that exposure to crude oil from coated birds and from cleaning rocks and beaches for under five days causes temporary DNA aberrations. However, workers exposed for several months contract permanent chromosomal DNA damage. Continuing education and research into long-term exposure will inform doctors and nursing professionals as to proper medical protocols for future healthcare.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have issued continuing educational warnings on air quality, food, water, and chemical dispersants. CDC warns that upon smelling gas or visibly spotting smoke from nearby fires one should “stay indoors, set your air conditioner to reuse indoor air, and avoid continuing physical activities that put extra demands on your lungs and heart.” CDC warns to avoid swimming, boating, and fishing near affected areas and to avoid contact with the oil spill dispersants which are used to break the oil slick into small droplets.
The EPA and the US Coast Guard have authorized BP for continuing use of dispersants at the underwater location of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The EPA notes that smaller droplets formed by dispersants will biodegrade faster than untreated crude oil. The EPA has also released a directive for BP to “significantly scale back the overall use of dispersants” and to “analyze potential alternative dispersants for toxicity” to “determine whether a less toxic, more alternative dispersant existed in the quantities necessary to address this crisis.” EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson wrote to BP that she and Admiral Landry of the Coast Guard maintain that “...your response to the directive was insufficient. We believe the response lacked sufficient analysis and focused more on defending your initial decisions than on analyzing possible better options.” EPA is asking BP for continuing education and research into dispersant alternatives and BP maintains that Corexit 9500 is the best option.