Respiratory Issues Plague Oil Spill Cleanup Crews

Five years after the disastrous Deepwater Horizon oil spill, thousands of workers hired to aid in the cleanup have begun to experience respiratory issues which may be linked to the oil exposure.

Dale Sandler, chief of the epidemiology branch of the National Institutes of Health reported that coughing and wheezing incidences among clean-up workers was 20 to 30 percent greater than with the general public.

“People who had the greatest exposure to the oil had more wheezing and more coughing,” Sandler said. These workers will continue to be monitored as part of the study to determine the length of time the symptoms continue to persist.

The oil spill resulted in the hiring of 55,000 clean-up workers by BP, most of which had no prior experience or training in dealing with oil spills. Christopher Klug of Brooksville participated in the cleanup for just four days before he felt the effects. “I got sick up there right away and they sent me home,” he said Friday. “It was the smell. It just reeked. It was like working inside an oil tank.”

In 2011 the National Institute of Health revealed plans for a decade long study of the impact on the cleanup workers health. To date, 33,000 of the workers have signed up and been interviewed, with another 19,000 secondary interviews scheduled. Clinics have been established in the areas of New Orleans and Mobile, AL to conduct extensive four-hour physical exams that include respiratory assessments by licensed RTs.

Sandler stated that blood tests conducted have not shown benzene or other chemicals related to the oil in the bloodstreams of the workers, which has at least alleviated some concerns.

The study will continue to follow the health of the workers for five more years with all findings being published in a scientific journal upon completion.

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