JAMA to Docs: Watch Out for Long-term Gulf Illnesses

August 19, 2010
Sean Johnson

The BP oil spill has been in the news for so long that many people have become numb to the reports coming out of the Gulf Coast. But health advisers have begun to turn their attention to the impact that the spill will have on those who have been close to the devastated region.

The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has been in the news for so long that many people have become numb to the reports coming out of the Gulf Coast. In recent weeks, there have been several angles on the reports, including the devastation that the oil spill has caused to the wildlife and, on a larger scale, the entire ecosystem in the area. But now health advisers have begun to turn their attention to the impact that the oil spill will have on the people who have been close to the devastated region. An editorial this week on the Journal of the American Medical Association website mentions that doctors should be on the lookout for a wide range of illnesses related to the spill, ranging from cancers to skin rashes.

According to the report, long-term health problems are likely, if other oil spills like Exxon Valdez in 1989 or the Prestige oil spill off the coast of Spain in 2002 are a guide. Studies conducted following both prior oil spills found several chronic conditions in workers who worked in close proximity to the accidents, including various conditions related to airway problems, such as COPD.

The report cites several hazardous components in the oil that have the potential to cause long-term health problems, such as benzene (known to cause leukemia), naphthalene (a suspected human carcinogen), and xylene (known to cause respiratory and central nervous system problems).

In addition, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has concluded that “the levels of pollutants in the Gulf may result in symptoms including eye, nose or throat irritation, nausea and headaches but are unlikely to cause ‘long-term harm.’”

For more information, see CNN’s recent coverage on the potential hazardous health situations the oil spill may be responsible for.

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Gulf oil spill exposes gaps in knowledge as US assesses long-term health effects