Lingering effects of the oil spill: More testing should be done


Did anyone really believe that once Gulf Coast beaches were cleaned and the water was clear that everything would be like it used to be? Did anyone really believe all that oil would somehow just dissipate and disappear, and that living creatures — including humans — would not be affected?

We may have hoped so, but did we really believe? Doubtful.

That’s why there is no surprise that a recently released study by the Louisiana Environmental Action Network (LEAN) has raised concerns about the long-term effects the oil spill is having on the health of Gulf Coast residents.

There are those who will consider this just another effort by a bunch of “tree-hugging environmentalists” to limit development on the Coast, but in this case those who ignore facts that don’t support their positions need to closely consider what the study found.

LEAN took blood samples from 12 people, ages 10 to 66, including cleanup workers in Orange Beach, crabbers in Biloxi and residents of Perdido Key. The samples were sent to a lab in Georgia, where they were analyzed.

What the analysis showed, according to an environmental chemist who also is a LEAN technical advisor, was that there was a high level of benzene in the people who were tested — 10 to 36 times higher than a recent study found in the general population.

Benzene is a toxic chemical that can cause anemia, irregular menstrual periods, ovarian shrinkage and leukemia. It can also cause dizziness, damage to the inner ear and kidney problems. Benzene and other dangerous chemicals, the study discovered, are found in crude oil.

The heaviest concentration of these substances was in the crabbers from Biloxi. A 10-year-old who was one of the crabbers is already experiencing health problems.

Although President Obama’s oil-spill commission has released its final report, many people along the Gulf Coast feel it does not adequately address how health problems such as this will be handled.

These results have been sent to Washington, yet there is a lingering fear that they might be buried under the mounds of paper that have come from committees and commissions. The concern is that this information will be lost or ignored.

This is a serious matter, though this information raises questions that must be answered. Such a small sample size — 12 people — doesn’t confirm that there is widespread contamination of Gulf Coast residents. Today, it’s speculation that the Coast is full of people with contaminated blood. Clearly, more information is needed.

Nevertheless, in our rush to get beaches ready for tourists who were eager to return, we cannot forget those who were on the Coast during and immediately after the spill. These people may continue to be at risk from the oil exposure they received.

It’s all the more reason for BP and those responsible for this disaster to add long-term health problems to the list of things they intend to “make right.”

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

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