Thousands of gulf oil spill clean-up workers were hired as a result of the Deepwater Horizon disaster. These workers were adorned with clean up suits, gloves and masks. Interactions between the workers and the oil and dispersants creates health problems for the workers.
Crude oil or Petroleum is a complex mixture of thousands of hydrocarbons and non-hydrocarbon compounds, including heavy metals. The toxicity of complex mixtures such as crude oils is extremely difficult to assess. The main concern is the organic chemical compound Benzene, which is a natural constituent of crude oil. Prolonged exposure to the crude oil by anyone spending time on the coast and beaches raises the level of Benzene entering the body. Very few studies have examined the long-term health risk of exposure to oil. Inhaling small amounts of crude oil or dispersants can cause drowsiness, dizziness, rapid heart rate, headaches, tremors, and unconsciousness. More over, extended exposure to oil and dispersants can cause central nervous system problems, or damage to the blood, the kidney, or the liver, according to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
History shows that following the Exxon Valdez oil spill, an estimated 11,000 clean-up workers made 5,600 visits to health clinics that summer for respiratory symptoms. Neither Exxon or the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health has preformed any research on long-term health effects on the workers. All the while, many clean-up workers continue to report health problems that they trace back to their involvement to that spill.
Since crude oil started pouring from BP’s well into the Gulf of Mexico, there have been empty promises to “learn new lessons,” ensuring safety for the workers. However, scientist and physicians continue to remain concerned for the health and well being of anyone involved inhaling the fumes, and handling or cleaning up the crude oil that followed the disaster.