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For instance, a major study of response workers by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences was not funded until six months after the spill, a critical delay that affects both the biology and the recall ability of the workers..
Benzene, a known carcinogen present in crude oil, disappears from a person's blood within four months, Goldstein said.
Local chemist Wilma Subra has been helping test people's blood for volatile solvents, and said levels of benzene among cleanup workers, divers, fishermen and crabbers are as high as 36 times that of the general population.
"As the event progresses we are seeing more and more people who are desperately ill," she said.
"Clearly it is showing that this is ongoing exposure," Subra said, noting that pathways include contact with the skin, eating contaminated seafood or breathing polluted air.
"We have been asking the federal agencies to please provide medical care from physicians who are trained in toxic exposure."
Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs, are pollutants that can cause genetic mutations and cancer. They are of particular interest in studying long-term health, but without a baseline for comparison it is difficult to know where they came from -- the oil spill or somewhere else in the environment.
"Ninety percent of them are getting worse... Nobody has a clue as to what it is."
Asked for comment, BP said in an email that "protection of response workers was a top priority" and that it had conducted "extensive monitoring of response workers" in coordination with several government agencies.
"Illness and injury reports were tracked and documented during the response, and the medical data indicate they did not differ appreciably from what would be expected among a workforce of this size under normal circumstances," it added.
Some similar symptoms, including eye irritation, breathing problems, nausea and psychological stress, have been seen among responders to the Prestige oil tanker spill off Spain in 2002 and the Exxon Valdez spill in 1989 off Alaska.
What I'm curious about is if the sickness is from the oil itself, or from the Corexit used in the cleanup?
According to the manufacturer's website, workers applying Corexit should wear breathing protection and work in a ventilated area. Compared with 12 other dispersants listed by the EPA, Corexit 9500 and 9527 are either similarly toxic or 10 to 20 times more toxic. In another preliminary EPA study of eight different dispersants, Corexit 9500 was found to be less toxic to some marine life than other dispersants and to break down within weeks, rather than settling to the bottom of the ocean or collecting in the water. None of the eight products tested are "without toxicity", according to an EPA administrator, and the ecological effect of mixing the dispersants with oil is unknown, as is the toxicity of the breakdown products of the dispersant.
Corexit 9527, considered by the EPA to be an acute health hazard, is stated by its manufacturer to be potentially harmful to red blood cells, the kidneys and the liver, and may irritate eyes and skin. The chemical 2-butoxyethanol, found in Corexit 9527, was identified as having caused lasting health problems in workers involved in the cleanup of the Exxon Valdez oil spill. According to the Alaska Community Action on Toxics, the use of Corexit during the Exxon Valdez oil spill caused people "respiratory, nervous system, liver, kidney and blood disorders". Like 9527, 9500 can cause hemolysis (rupture of blood cells) and may also cause internal bleeding.
According to the EPA, Corexit is more toxic than dispersants made by several competitors and less effective in handling southern Louisiana crude.