Oil Spill Health Issues


The oil spill that was triggered by the loss of the Deep Water Horizon was the worst in this nation’s history. And if you ask the state and federal government they will tell you the worst is over and the Gulf of Mexico is back to normal.

At least that’s what the government has been telling us. But a new report just out has revealed some very disturbing findings.

Elevated levels of dangerous chemicals found in the crude oil from the Deep Water Horizon is now being found in our blood.

Wilma Subra has been testing water and soil samples in Acadiana four for decades and what she sees in this latest study concerns her.

A blood study that was conducted on four males ages 3 to 43 and one female age 38 in December of last year. Subra says the results of those tests have revealed elevated levels of six toxic and potentially life threatening chemicals associated with crude oil, most notably Ethylbenzene which has been linked to kidney damage and cancer.

As the Executive Director of the Louisiana Environmental Action Network Marylee Orr is doing all she can to get the word out about these latest test results and the health problems her organization says these chemicals pose not only on those who have already come forward but on those who are out there now and don’t realize what they may be carrying around as a result of their exposure to crude oil from spill.

The two most common methods of exposure are either direct contact on the skin or by breathing it in. But ingestion, eating food already contaminated with these chemicals is another source of contamination and the one that worries those in charge of this study the most.

Questions Raised About Study

The study done by the Louisiana Environmental Action Network shows unusually high levels of the chemical ethyl benzene and unusually high levels of petroleum hydrocarbons in seafood that the group tested.

But not everyone is convinced just yet.

The study raises serious questions about the safety not only of seafood but of the coastline and marshes around the Gulf as well. But for all the questions the study raises about safety. It also raises a few about the study itself. The study suggests that not only is Gulf seafood possibly contaminated but that people may be as well.

UL Lafayette Professor Paul Klerks is an expert in the environmental toxicology and he says the high levels of ethyl benzene found in human patients is alarming but he doesn’t believe its reason to panic just yet.

“This is potentially cause for concern, but it’s a very small sample size of five so it’s really hard to tell with just a small sample size what it means as whole.”

Klerks says he’d also like to know which area the tested seafood was collected from LEAN Director Mary Lee Orr says “most” of the seafood tested came from uncontaminated areas.

The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and fisheries has seen the study and denies the conclusions from it completely.

In an e-mail sent to TV10 ten the WLF says they closed oil contaminated areas and kept fishermen out, didn’t reopen contaminated areas until seafood was found to be safe, haven’t found any contaminated seafood, and will continue to test seafood in the coming years. Essentially the WLF Department says there is no danger on the coast or seafood in open fishing areas.

But Klerks says these tests may be cause for concern… But more tests need to be done.

“They do point out potential issues but we need to do al allot more research for both of those areas at this point… A lot more sampling to get a better idea of really how important these issues are that are brought up in these studies.”

But, until those studies can be done Klerks give a word of advice to seafood lovers.

“I would say buy seafood from reputable sources don’t go out and collect it yourselves in areas you can’t be sure about are open for harvesting”

In August, chemists prepared a patrol boat and made a total of nine sampling trips, from the western edge of Terrebonne Parish to the Louisiana-Mississippi line and collected over 50 samples.

And of all the seafood they tested, here’s a list of the top five with the highest amount of petroleum hydrocarbons.

#5- Fiddler Crabs and Periwinkles, or snails, out of Terrebonne Parish.

#4- Shrimp from St. Bernard Parish.

#3- Oysters from Terrebonne Parish.

#2- Oysters from Plaquemines Parish.

#1- Flounder and Speckled Trout collected from St. Bernard parish.

The Flounder and Speckled Trout contained the highest amount of petroleum hydrocarbons, at about 21,000 Milligrams.

Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Response

The State Department of Wildlife and Fisheries was quick to our request for a comment.

Olivia Watkins says the FDA only recommends eating four to six shrimp a week because that is how much shrimp people consume on a national average. The figure, Watkins claims, has nothing to do with whether shrimp are safe to eat or not.

Watkins also says she routinely eats more than the recommended weekly allowance and insists she not at risk to exposure from any toxic chemicals because the amounts uncovered in the study are way too low to pose a health risk.

But Wilma Subra, the woman who conducted the study says, one time expose is not at issue. The concern here, Subra says, is the cumulative impact of repeated exposure over decades.

The study covered only a handful of people because those are the individuals who came forward with a list of similar health problems.

Those problems included everything from trouble breathing, and bleeding from the ears, to swelling of the limbs and blood in the stool. Some of the more unusual cases include a commercial diver who is plagued by mysterious rash and the three year son of a fisherman who is suffering from kidney stones.

Reaction to Study

University of Louisiana at Lafayette Biology Professor Paul Klerks said LEAN’s study could be cause for concern.


“This is potentially cause for concern,” Klerks said, “but it’s a very small sample size of five, so it’s really hard to tell with just a small sample what it really means as whole.”

In an e-mail sent to KLFY, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries refutes the study.

The e-mail states all contaminated areas were isolated from use until testing could be done to deem them safe, and that testing of these areas will continue over the next few years.

Klerks says the high levels found of ethyl benzene in humans and petroleum hydrocarbon in seafood needs to be investigated further.

“They do point out potential issues, but we need to do a lot more research for both of those areas. At this point a lot more sampling [is needed] to get a better idea of really how important these issues are that are brought up in this study.”

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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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