Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Could Affect Health
Gulf Coast Oil Slick Could Have Impact on Seafood and Air Quality
WebMD News Archive
April 30, 2010 -- The Deepwater Horizon incident occurred about 50 miles
southeast of Venice, La., on April 22 after an explosion and fire damaged a
Transocean oil rig, causing it to burn for hours and sink. There were
approximately 700,000 gallons of fuel onboard before the fire, and exactly how
much of this fuel burned before it sank is not known, according to the National
Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in Silver Spring, Md.
The spill could affect hundreds of species of fish, birds, and other
wildlife along the Gulf Coast, which is one of the world's richest seafood
grounds. According to NOAA, there may be risks for people working as oil spill
responders, observers, and in wildlife rehabilitation due to inhalation of
Oil-derived compounds including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) tend
to be readily cleared from fish and mammals, so eating fish after an oil spill
generally does not pose a health risk to humans. But oysters, shrimp, and crab
do not readily clear PAHs and are more likely to accumulate these potentially
toxic substances after oil exposure, NOAA states.
These compounds can also be toxic for fish eggs and larvae and may can cause
a wide range of health problems in other marine species.
Impact on Air Quality
LuAnn White, PhD, a professor of environmental health sciences and the
director of the Tulane Center for Applied Environmental Public Health in New
Orleans, is on the front lines of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
"We are watching it very closely," she tells WebMD. "The odor from the spill
could affect people with respiratory diseases such as asthma and emphysema, but
the spill happened off shore, so that is good because there is no one out
there," she says. The occupational health issues are immense, but proper
safeguards are being taken by oil spill responders and others involved in the
clean-up process, she adds.
The oil involved in the spill was sweet crude oil. "It didn't have sulfur,
so it doesn't smell as bad as other types of oil and it is composed of lighter
compounds that will evaporate," she explains.
So far, she says, the odor is light and transient.
There has been other reassuring news regarding air quality, White tells
WebMD. "There has been air monitoring along the coastline and that didn't pick
up anything so far."
Touching the oil can cause skin irritation and burning, she says. "Standing
next to it and not touching it will not cause any problems."
As far as drinking water concerns, there are none. "The Gulf of Mexico is a
saltwater body, not a freshwater source, so drinking water contamination is not
an issue," she says.
The risk of contaminated seafood reaching consumers is also relatively low,
she says. "Fisherman won't be allowed to collect seafood in any area with an
oil spill, so seafood caught will come from other areas."