The rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico that occurred in April has caused a catastrophic oil spill that continues to gush. This is possibly America’s largest environmental disaster yet, given the impact it has and will continue to have on both water and air quality. Although the spill appears to have hit Louisiana the hardest, the effects will be felt across the Gulf States (including Florida, Alabama and Mississippi). While some action is being taken to address aquatic issues, little is being said with regards to the air quality disaster that has clearly developed, and that continues to worsen.
The evaporation of crude oil releases noxious air contaminants, particularly volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and semi-volatile organic compounds (SVOCs) like: toluene, benzene and xylene. The EPA “says” that it is currently monitoring air quality with Trace Atmospheric Gas Analyzers (TAGA); they expect the thick sheets of oil will impact air quality in the Gulf region and higher concentrations of dipropylene glycol mono butyl ether and butoxyethanol (dispersants) are to be expected. The question now is how it is possible that, thus far, their findings indicate that everything is normal in this region?
Kindra Arnesen revealed the answer to this burning question on CNN. Arnesen’ s husband, Dave, and his fellow shrimpers have all fallen ill since the oil spill disaster; symptoms include: headache, nausea, a hacking cough and other respiratory problems. Although BP has suggested these symptoms are due to food poisoning, Arnesen believes otherwise. Fishermen are scared to lose the only income they have right now, but it’s costing them their health. The air quality in the immediate and surrounding areas of the oil spill are toxic.
Air quality is compromised fairly quickly when an oil spill occurs. History has shown that VOCs tend to disperse quickly once oil reaches water surfaces. Long-term exposure to VOCs can cause a number of respiratory diseases, and in many cases, cancer. SVOCs are released from weathered oil and take longer to reach shore; they evaporate slowly. Normally, exposure to these air pollutants is a result of vehicular exhaust, which is known for its toxicity and carcinogenic chemicals.
Toxicologists warn of the harmful short and long-term effects of dispersants on human health; moreover, Corexit (the dispersant that is currently in use) comes with a label that warns users that as a result of “repeat or excessive use” red blood cell, kidney and liver damage may occur. Albeit BP’s “good intentions”, the 700,000 gallons of dispersants used in the Gulf are composed of chemicals that can cause serious harm to humans and other living species. A review of previous oil spill cases shows that the use of dispersants may cause an increase in the toxicity of hydrocarbons.
Fishermen in Louisiana assisting with clean-up efforts have reported symptoms, such as: nausea, crippling headaches, coughing and respiratory problems. In one report, a fisherman revealed that after experiencing malaise and coughing, he visited a doctor and an x-ray of his lungs resembled that of a lifetime smoker—he’d never smoked a day in his life. On CNN, Arnesen said “Anything that ever starts, starts with one.” I sure hope she’s right in this case.