Bad Blood in the Bayou

The Louisiana Environmental Action Network (LEAN) just released a report by Wilma Subra proving that local Gulf residents have been contaminated by oil.The blood from eight individuals, 3 women and 5 men, tested positive for ethylbenzene, m,p-xylene, and hexanes. Comparing the blood samples with regular, unexposed Americans1, the BP workers and community members had shockingly high levels of toxic chemicals in their bodies. These chemicals have been shown to have deleterious health affects in these high amounts.Breathing high levels of ethylbenzene can causes dizziness and throat and eye irritation. In animals studies, researchers found that exposure to relatively low concentrations of ethylbenzene caused permanent damage to the inner ear and hearing after only a few days to weeks of exposure and kidney damage after several months to years of exposure. Newborn animals whose mothers were exposed during pregnancy had minor birth defects and low birth weights. Further, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has determined that ethylbenzene could cause cancer in human beings.2People exposed to m,p-Xylene may get headaches, lose muscle coordination, and become dizzy or confused. For just short periods of exposure, people may experience “irritation of the skin, eyes, nose, and throat; difficulty in breathing; problems with the lungs; delayed reaction time; memory difficulties; stomach discomfort; and possibly changes in the liver and kidneys. Children may be more sensitive to acute inhalation exposure than adults because their narrower airways would be more sensitive to swelling effects. Studies of unborn animals indicate that high concentrations of xylene may cause increased numbers of deaths, and delayed growth and development. In many instances, these same concentrations also cause damage to the mothers.”3Workers who breathed hexanes reported that their feet and hands went numb followed by muscle weakness in the lower legs. Continued exposure led to paralysis of the arms and legs. The workers recovered in 6 months to a year. In laboratory studies, animals exposed to high levels of n-hexane in air had signs of nerve damage. Some animals also had lung damage. In other studies, rats exposed to very high levels of n-hexane had damage to sperm-forming cells.4Each of these chemicals is known to be present in BP’s spilled crude oil and each was found in the blood of all eight Gulf citizens that were tested. For these people, all the short-term and long-term impacts of having high amounts of petroleum chemicals in their blood is not known. How many other people are walking around with toxic compounds coursing in their blood is also currently unknown. What we do know is that the BP Gulf Petro-Chemical Experiment is continuing.Casey DeMoss Roberts is the Assistant Director of Water Resources at the Gulf Restoration Network.1. Average citizens of the United States take part in a comprehensive health survey called the NHANES program. NHANES began in the early 1960s and has been conducted as a series of surveys focusing on different population groups or health topics. In 1999, the survey became a continuous program that has a changing focus on a variety of health and nutrition measurements to meet emerging needs. The survey examines a nationally representative sample of about 5,000 persons each year. These persons are located in counties across the country, 15 of which are visited each year. The data from these surveys are free and available to the public and health reserachers to use.2. Agency for Toxic Disease Registry and Substances. ToxFaqs for Ethylbenzene. September 2007. Available at: Accessed on October 26, 2010.3. Agency for Toxic Disease Registry and Substances. ToxFaqs for Xylenes. August 2007. Available at: Accessed on October 26, 2010.4. Agency for Toxic Disease Registry and Substances. ToxFaqs for n-Hexane. June 1999. Available at: Accessed on October 26, 2010.

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