Health Problems from Oil Spill Reported in Louisiana

At least 162 people in Louisiana have reported suffering illnesses and other health problems from the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, mostly impacting workers involved in the clean up. 

The Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals released an oil spill health effect summary (pdf) last week. The report indicates that 128 of the reported illnesses from the oil spill so far have been from oil industry workers and 34 have been from the general population. At least 21 people have been hospitalized.

State health departments, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), are working throughout the affected areas to prevent, monitor, and treat oil spill health problems, which can come from physical contact, inhalation or consuming food contaminated by the oil or dispersants used to clean it from the water.

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Louisiana officials say that most of the workers affected by the oil spill came into contact with a variety of chemicals and that their symptoms have cleared up quickly. Over half of those workers said they were performing cleanup operations when they were exposed. Most of the complaints from the general public have been due to mild symptoms caused by odors from the oil spill.

The most common complaints were of headaches, nausea, throat irritation, vomiting and coughing. Most of the victims were treated in local emergency rooms. Those who required hospitalization generally had short stays, usually one day.

The gulf coast oil spill started shortly after the April 20 explosion and fire on the Deepwater Horizon sent the oil drilling rig to the bottom of the Gulf and unleashed an oil spill in the Gulf that could be the worst environmental disaster in history. BP, formerly known as British Petroleum, which leased the oil rig, is siphoning some of the flow into oil tankers after weeks of failing to cap the well, resulting in a massive oil slick that is impacting several states, including Louisiana, Mississippi and Florida.

The CDC has been working to educate workers and cleanup volunteers on potential oil spill safety and health hazards. The agency is attempting to make a survey of every cleanup worker in the area so it can track possible health problems among the worker population. The FDA and NOAA have been focused on ensuring that contaminated seafood does not get distributed.

About 100 wrongful death, business interruption and environmental tort lawsuits over the gulf oil spill have been filed against BP, Transocean Ltd., Halliburton Energy Services, Inc. and Cameron International Corp. since the the oil spill began. The U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation is scheduled to look at the oil spill lawsuits in July. They will decide whether the cases should be consolidated in one court to prevent duplicative discovery and inconsistent rulings. The Panel will also determine where the oil spill lawsuits should be centralized if an MDL is formed.

Photo Courtesy of IBRRC via Flickr CC


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