Update on potential risk to human health from environmental attorney Stuart H. Smith of Smith Stag Law Firm, New Orleans, Louisiana regarding BP Deepwater Horizon catastrophe in Gulf of Mexico


Research indicates that significant public health impact is not unprecedented from a major oil spill on the water. Attorney Smith’s lawsuit will seek requisite protective equipment, training, and air monitoring for response workers as well as bans on release forms for fishermen to get work.

Mr. Smith released the following statement:

“Reports of chemical exposures have come to my office by those responding to the spill. It is absolutely essential that appropriate personal protective equipment, including VOC respirators, and training be provided to those volunteers responding to the spill. We have been informed that this was not necessarily a step taken in the Exxon Valdez incident and many of the fisherman and volunteer responders became ill. As a result, we will be amending our injunctive relief claims to require the provisioning of personal protective equipment and training to all those responding to the spill, and requiring immediate monitoring of the air discharges. We will also seek to enjoin any efforts by BP to require fishermen to sign release forms in order to work on the clean-up.

“Questions that should be foremost on everyone’s minds are: What are the results of the worst-case air dispersion modeling conducted by BP and the federal government; and, if air dispersion modeling and risk assessment has not been done based on a worst-case scenario, why not?

“For example, on July 27, 2003, the Greek tanker Tasman Spirit carrying crude oil from Iran to Pakistan ran aground at the entrance to Karachi Port. Later, the ship broke and eventually spilled more than 35,000 tons of oil into the sea and along seven miles of the highly populated residential and recreational coastline.

“Fumes from the volatile organic compounds and mist containing hydrocarbons, accompanied by a strong smell, dispersed into the residential area. Local hospitals reported many cases of headaches, nausea and dizziness, and 17 schools in the vicinity were closed for about a week. Local media showed pictures of piles of dead fish and turtles on the oiled beach. An initial assessment suggested that about 11,000 metric tons of volatile organic compounds entered the air after the spills.

“Back of the envelope calculations today indicate that in excess of 100,000 tons of volatile organic compounds could easily enter the atmosphere from the BP spill in the Gulf, and expose those downwind. Oil is composed of numerous hazardous and toxic carcinogens.

“According to expert toxicologist Dr. William Sawyer, there are three primary human risks associated with exposure to Louisiana crude oil (detailed following release), including direct contact, direct inhalation of volatile hydrocarbons and ozone hazard.

“The people of the Gulf Coast, particularly those in Louisiana, have every reason to demand total and complete information about the potentials of this disaster. The people of this region have been put at risk after Katrina when information failed to be provided in a timely and sufficient manner. This cannot be repeated.”

Mr. Smith referenced this link regarding the incident in Pakistan:


The lawsuit reference by Mr. Smith can be downloaded at:


For information about Mr. Smith, see http://www.smithstag.com

For interview:

C. BRYLSKI (504) 897-6110/460-1468 or HEATHER HARPER (504) 289-0499 (LOUISIANA PRESS)

J. OLDHAM (OUTSIDE LOUISIANA/ NATIONAL PRESS) (703) 519-1283 (w) (571) 296-7747 (c)  or  (703) 371-7143 (c)


The three primary human risks associated with exposure to Louisiana crude oil, according to expert toxicologist Dr. William Sawyer:

1. Direct contact

Volunteers, fishermen, residents or other personnel who directly contact the oil or sludge associated with the BP spill should be appropriately trained with personal protective gear and decontamination procedures since Louisiana crude is known to contain carcinogenic chemicals such as polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). Repeated contact without proper protection over an extended period poses a substantial health risk of skin cancer and other malignancies.  Additionally, the PAH-contaminated oil and tar is readily transmitted from gloves, boots, tools and tracked in soil into the living quarters of residents posing a risk to children who may receive further exposure.

2. Direct inhalation of volatile hydrocarbons

Under certain atmospheric conditions, reports have documented adverse health effects in humans from the inhalation of the volatile fraction emanating from large-scale crude oil releases.  The volatile hydrocarbon fraction of crude oil contains aromatic hydrocarbons such as toluene, xylenes and benzene at levels from 0.1 percent to greater than 1 percent.  The potential for such health effects are highly dependent on release quantity and atmospheric conditions (wind, atmospheric inversion) and potentially include upper respiratory irritation effects, neurological effects and risk to the developing fetus among pregnant females.  This is primarily an issue for those living in close proximity to the shoreline and may include large-scale coastal city populations in the event of complete catastrophic failure/release.  Emergency management must anticipate this remote possibility.

3. Ozone hazard

In the event of sustained or catastrophic crude oil releases with specific meteorological conditions present, sufficient volatile hydrocarbons would be present to catalyze the generation of high ozone levels within urban areas such as New Orleans.  Ozone is formed in the lower atmosphere regions from the interaction of hydrocarbons and nitrogen dioxide with sunlight.  Nitrogen dioxide is already present in urban areas from auto exhaust and other combustion sources.  Ozone levels in excess of 40 parts per billion in urban areas are associated with increased morbidity and mortality.  Controlled burns would further exacerbate ozone formation.

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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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