Wherever there’s underground oil drilling, oil spills are an unfortunate – and often preventable — fact of life. While the Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico is the largest in U.S. history, we’ve had our fair share off the Pacific Coast. Less than two years ago, a ruptured pipeline in the waters off Orange County caused some 25,000 gallons of crude oil to flow into the ocean and surrounding beaches and wetlands.
The professionals tasked with cleaning up the oil face a number of risks to their health and safety. Researchers who studied the physical effects of this clean-up on those who responded to the Deepwater Horizon disaster found an increase in respiratory issues. Surprisingly, the lead researcher noted that this was “the first study to ever look at specific chemicals from oil spills and link them to respiratory diseases.”
These respiratory issues, like asthma, have been tied to the chemicals in the oil itself (known by their collective acronym of BTEX-H) as well as the chemicals used to break down the oil that spilled. The chemicals that make up BTEX-H are classified under the U.S. Clean Air Act as “hazardous.”
Those in multiple jobs developed respiratory issues
Not surprisingly, the likelihood of developing symptoms of asthma increased with the amount of exposure (both in proximity and length of time) to these chemicals. There’s no one specific job description when it comes to cleaning up a massive oil spill.
Researchers looked at people who worked on vessels “mopping up” the oil from the water, those who decontaminated wildlife as well as equipment and those who worked with the cleanup equipment. Those in the last group were most likely to develop asthma.
Lack of access to health care is a problem
The doctor who led the study says that because those involved in this work are “socioeconomically vulnerable, with less than half reporting access to medical care, we included non-doctor confirmed asthma cases to minimize any underreporting of true asthma cases in the population that would be missed due to lack of access to health care.”
Medical care is crucial to helping alleviate the short-term and long-term effects of exposure to toxic chemicals. That’s one reason why it’s crucial to seek compensation from parties liable for your exposure to cover damages like medical costs, lost wages and more.