Video from the Vault: Veteran Toxicologist Warns of Increased Risk of Cancer and Birth Defects Tied to Later Stages of Spill; Unprotected Cleanup Workers at Highest Risk


Originally posted Nov 29, 2010

Little attention has been given to the human health impacts of the BP spill. It’s a glaring gap in the research we’ve seen thus far, both on the part of independent scientists and government experts. With unprecedented amounts of oil and dispersants dumped into the Gulf and tens of thousands of people involved in the response, many believe we will see dramatic increases in health problems among Gulf residents, particularly cleanup workers. Doctors have already treated people with a variety of illnesses related to the spill.

A leading member of my research team, veteran toxicologist Dr. William Sawyer, has done extensive research into the human health effects of the spill, particularly toxic exposures. He warns of the grave health risks tied to the later stages of an oil spill, when we see things like tar balls and weathered crude floating on the surface. Although the oil has stopped flowing, there remain serious health risks in the Gulf. And we feel the lack of information and research coming from the government at this point is simply unacceptable given the high level of risk to a potentially huge group of people.

Dr. Sawyer: “…oil at the surface and in the tar balls…is contaminated with higher percentages of toxic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), some of which we’ve measured are carcinogens…Thus, this oil exposure is more toxic than that of fresh version crude.”

So, in other words, the current risk could be higher right now – at least regarding direct contact with the skin (i.e., dermal absorption) – than it was even at the earliest stages of the spill response.

According to Sawyer, the health effects are very serious indeed, including: increased risk of cancer, chromosomal aberrations, genetic damage.

There are also problems with identifying related illnesses because early symptoms are sometimes mistaken for the flu. There’s also a latency period where a person will show no adverse health effects for several years, until malignancy occurs.

This is a video that neither BP nor the government wants you to see…

© Smith Stag, LLC 2010 – All Rights Reserved

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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