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Deepwater Horizon Cleanup Workers Showing Long-term Health Effects

oil cleanup dispersants causing long term health effectsWhen disaster strikes, many times it is those charged with cleaning up after the event who suffer the most lasting consequences. We have seen evidence of it in the first responders in New York on September 11, 2001 and the cleanup crews who worked the site for months and months afterward.

We’re seeing complications develop in those who responded to more recent events as well. The Deepwater Horizon disaster was cataclysmic in its scale. Taking some 87 days to resolve, it resulted in over 210 million gallons of oil being pumped into the Gulf of Mexico.

A wide variety of chemicals were used in the subsequent cleanup and most of them were what are known as dispersants. Dispersants work to break down oil at the molecular level and are used primarily to break up large oil slicks. The smaller sections of oil slick can then either be degraded by natural or biological means or diluted by adding large amounts of water to the affected area.

According to MedlinePlus, a new study indicates that workers who were exposed to these dispersants have developed health side effects, and researchers are working to track them.

Workers tasked with the Deepwater Horizon cleanup that were exposed to dispersants are reporting a variety of respiratory effects years after the disaster and share many commonalities. These include coughing, wheezing, tightness across their chests, and burning in the eyes, nose, throats, and lungs.

Researchers would like to look into the issue further. “Some of them are continuing to not feel well, and we don’t know what factors are contributing to it,” says Linda Birnbaum, Director of the U.S. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. “The ongoing [Gulf study] is important for shedding light on the potential health impacts associated with an oil spill.”

At the same time, the lead author emphasizes that these effects appear to be limited to the workers themselves and do not show signs of spreading throughout the impacted areas. “The health effects that we see in the workers don’t necessarily apply to the community at large,” he says. “Although, many of the workers live in affected areas.”

Cleaning toxic environments is dangerous work and these workers should be protected at all times from the chemicals and other compounds they will be exposed to. When disaster strikes, these are the people who go into the heart of the scene to remediate the situation while others stay away. It should not be a task that potentially harms them for the rest of their life.