The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has already been deemed the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history. But the spill has also earned another title: a public health disaster.
As the oil continues to gush, its health hazards continue to wreak havoc on the health of Gulf residents and cleanup workers. By the end of June, 162 oil-related illnesses had been reported to the Louisiana state health department. 128 of those cases involved workers on oil rigs or individuals involved in the oil spill cleanup efforts. According to the department’s oil spill surveillance report, the most common symptoms reported were throat and eye irritation, shortness of breath, cough, nausea, chest pain, and headaches. Many have also reported vomiting and additional respiratory problems.
The Plaquemines Medical Center, near Venice, Louisiana has treated dozens of patients who have gotten sick from spill-related chemical exposure. The Director of the medical center, Michael Kotler states that the center handles those cases that the US Health Service and a private medical contractor employed by BP are not prepared to handle.
Fisherman David Arnesen’s wife recently told CNN about calls she received from her husband while he was on an overnight shrimp fishing expedition in the Gulf:
“I received several calls from him saying, ‘This one’s hanging over the boat, throwing up. This one says he’s dizzy, and he’s feeling faint. Everybody’s loading up their stuff, tying up their rigs and going back to the docks.”
Even after his doctor diagnosed him with respiratory problems and prescribed medicines, Arnesen’s wife says he still doesn’t have the energy he used to have. “Here we are over a month later and he’s still not completely well” she said.
Though the Center for Disease Control and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health are conducting studies on the health effects, their findings will not be released soon enough to help those who have already been exposed. meanwhile, BP and some government officials delay efforts to put stronger medical care and preventative measures in place since there is “little hard science about the long-term health effects on spill workers”.
CNN’s Keith Olbermann recently reported that many workers who have been breathing in toxic fumes day after day have already landed in the hospital with chest pains, nausea, and headaches. BP even threatened to fire workers who wear masks. It’s shameful and outrageous.
For more on this issue, watch Keith Olbermann’s report and take action.
Though the spill has been capped off for now, clean up workers will still be exposed to the enormous amount of oil that has accumulated over the past 3 months as they work to clean up the damage.