The environmental catastrophe unfolding in the gulf of Mexico right now is beyond the ability of most of us to fully comprehend. We who live here must be exceedingly vigilant, as the immediate risks to our health have as much to do with air pollution, as water pollution. New video footage of the leak indicates that toxic natural gases are being released in tremendous quantities. Indeed, these highly pressurized gases are believed to have played a major role in explosion that lead to the sinking of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig on April 20th. Initial tests by the EPA on the coastline of Louisana indicated that exceedingly high levels of dangerous “air toxics” were present.
It appears that the “air pollution” aspect of the problem is not being discussed openly, due to the adverse effects it will have on anyone thinking of traveling, investing, or owning real estate here. Indeed, governor Crist is actively courting BP to have them divest millions of dollars to fund a misleading advertising campaign to convince potential visitors that our beaches are safe. Is this really a responsible move if the air itself is liable to become a major health hazard, especially if the highly questionable practice of “controlled burning” continues to be employed? Already areas as far away as Naples have reported complaints by the public of a “foul smell” and concomitant respiratory symptoms.
At this time we should proceed with the cautionary principle due to the inherent risks of exposure to “air toxics” from the underwater geyser, such as benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, xylene and hydrogen sulfide. These substances can be carried far from their point of origin via air currents, potentially putting residents of our heavily populated coasts at risk. Furthermore, BP’s government-sanctioned disaster mitigation approach thus far has focused on “suppressing symptoms” of the calamity by using highly toxic dispersants to drive the problem deeper into the water column where it will it will do greater harm to wild life, and will accelerate its entry into the gulf stream.
This blog intends to provide a forum for accurate reporting and discussion on the true nature of this catastrophe, with an emphasis on providing information and tools to minimize harmful exposures for those living in the gulf region. We would also like to petition for the end of controlled burning and the use of dispersants.
First in order, is an assessment of the potential of airborne pollutants to cause harm to those in the gulf region. Early figures released by the EPA indicated that levels of toxic pollutants in the air on the coast of Louisana were measured to be up to 100 times higher than considered safe:
EPA Air Testing Data Still Shows High Levels of Airborne Toxins From BP’s DEEPWATER HORIZON Disaster
Statement by Toxicologist Dr. William Sawyer for the Gulf Oil Disaster
Recovery Group representing LEAN and United Commercial Fisherman’s
“Yesterday, we confirmed a recent evaluation done by the Louisiana
Environmental Action Network (LEAN) of the Environmental Protection Agency’s
results of air content and quality testing, showing that the level of some airborne
toxins is greater than 100 times the quantity considered safe to humans and
could cause physical reactions.
“Mysteriously overnight, EPA withdrew some of these figures and said
they had made an error. However, after EPA reevaluated the data the highest
reading for hydrogen sulfide, which was 1,192 parts per billion on May 3,
remained unchanged. It should also be noted that the levels for volatile organic
compounds were not disputed.
“There is an obvious significant threat not only to the environment and
economy, but also to public health for those downwind of the oil slick. It is
imperative that BP and the federal government immediately release to the public
all information that they have as it effects human health.
“Immediate precautions and continuous monitoring is essential.
“Since weather patterns indicate that sustained winds will blow from the Gulf into
southeast Louisiana over the next few days, action must happen quickly. State
and federal health officials need the ability to act quickly and with accuracy.”
Dr. Sawyer is Chief Toxicologist for Toxicology Consultants & Assessment
Specialists, LLC., Sanibel, FL. As a toxicologist with board certifications in forensic
medicine and forensic examiner, he routinely provides impartial toxicological evaluations involving chemical exposures, alcohol ingestion, intentional poisons involved in homicides, carcinogens, pharmaceuticals, pyrolysis products, heavy metals, organic chemicals and drugs of abuse in civil and criminal litigation. [Source: www.gulfoildisasterrecovery.com]
The EPA later recanted these measurements indicating that they were a “mistake.” To view their present assessment you can visit their Air Monitoring on Gulf Coastline Website http://www.epa.gov/bpspill/air.html It is hard to know who to trust in this situation, given the contradictions and just how politically charged this issue is.
The fact remains that gases being emitted by this leak, are known to have serious adverse health effects.
Persistence: “The atmospheric residence time of hydrogen
sulfide is typically less than 1 day (Hill, 1973), but may
be as high as 42 days in winter (Bottenheim & Strausz,
Persistence: “Benzene exists in the atmosphere in the gas phase. The dominant atmospheric loss process for benzene in the troposphere is by reaction with the hydroxyl (OH) radical. Based on this reaction, the atmospheric lifetime and half-life are estimated to be 12 days and 8 days, respectively. The reaction products from this reaction include phenol (with a reported yield of 24 percent), glyoxal and other ring-opened compounds (Atkinson, 1994).” Source
Direct inhalation of volatile hydrocarbons
“Direct inhalation of volatile hydrocarbons: Under certain atmospheric conditions, reports have documented adverse health effects in humans from the inhalation of the volatile fraction emanating from large-scale crude oil releases. The volatile hydrocarbon fraction of crude oil contains aromatic hydrocarbons such as toluene, xylenes and benzene at levels from 0.1% to greater than 1%. The potential for such health effects are highly dependent on release quantity and atmospheric conditions (wind, atmospheric inversion) and potentially includes upper respiratory irritation effects, neurological effects and risk to the developing fetus among pregnant females. This is primarily an issue for those living in close proximity to the shoreline and may include large-scale coastal city populations in the event of complete catastrophic failure/release. Emergency management must anticipate this remote possibility.” Dr. William Sawyer, Toxicologist
“Ozone hazard: In the event of sustained or catastrophic crude oil releases with specific meteorological conditions present, sufficient volatile hydrocarbons would be present to catalyze the generation of high ozone levels within urban areas such as New Orleans. Ozone is formed in the lower atmosphere regions from the interaction of hydrocarbons and nitrogen dioxide with sunlight. Nitrogen dioxide is already present in urban areas from auto exhaust and other combustion sources. Ozone levels in excess of 40 parts per billion in urban areas are associated with increased morbidity and mortality. Controlled burns would further exacerbate ozone formation.” Dr. William Sawyer, Toxicologist