Next Stage of the Oil Spill: Health Crisis in the Gulf

BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil disaster is over, right? Wrong. An exhaustive investigation shows the damaging effects of those pesky oil dispersant chemicals are just starting to kick in.



BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil disaster is over, right? The well has been capped, the horror stories have stopped pouring out of the Gulf, and for the most part, things have gone back to normal. Except for one thing: those pesky oil dispersants–the chemicals that BP is using to break up crude oil–might be making people sick.

That’s the conclusion of an Al Jazeera investigation, which has found a number of people living along the Gulf Coast who are complaining of possible reactions to dispersants, which often contain solvents like petroleum distillates and 2-butoxyethanol (a fetal toxin that is known to cause blood and kidney disorders as well as diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and dizziness, among other things). Al Jazeera reports:

Denise Rednour of Long Beach, Mississippi, has been taking walks on
Long Beach nearly every day since the disaster began on April 20, and
she is dealing with constant health issues. “I’ve had health problems since the middle of July,” she said. “At
the end of August, I came home from walking on the beach and for four
days had bloody, mucus-filled diarrhea, dry heaves, and blood running
out of my ear.” Karen Hopkins, in Grand Isle, Louisiana, has been sick since the
middle of May. “I started feeling exhausted, disoriented, dizzy,
nauseous, and my chest was burning and I can’t breath well at times,”
she said.

These symptoms should sound familiar to anyone familiar with past oil disasters; as we reported months ago, respiratory and central nervous system problems are common among oil spill cleanup workers. Merle Savage, a cleanup worker for the Exxon Valdex spill, told us that she developed a number of frightening symptoms, including cirrhosis of the liver (she doesn’t drink), rheumatoid arthritis, diarrhea, and respiratory problems.


Al Jazeera is not the only outlet to report on the dispersants’ possible effects on Gulf residents; in the months following the oil disaster, reports from media outlets like Mother Jones, Pro Publica, the LA Times discussed the health ramifications of exposure to oil and oil dispersants. More recently, the reports have died down as interest in the oil disaster has waned. Of course, it’s only now–many months after the disaster–that chronic health problems are starting to reveal themselves. So kudos to Al Jazeera for keeping up with the story. Let’s hope that the investigations continue.

Ariel Schwartz can be reached on Twitter or by email.

About the author

Ariel Schwartz is a Senior Editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine and more