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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Federal Government Study on Gulf Cleanup Workers Health

The federal government is launching a study to see whether workers who helped clean up last year's Gulf of Mexico oil spill are getting sick as a result of those jobs. The study was commissioned after some cleanup workers reported chest pain, headaches, breathing difficulties and other ailments that they believed were linked to the oil spill.  The epidemiology branch of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences is the government office heading the study.

The study, funded with an initial $8 million from the government and $6 million from BP PLC, aims to follow 55,000 former cleanup workers for up to a decade. It will be the biggest study ever of an oil spill's health effects. It will look at everything from skin rashes to breathing problems to potential increased cancer risk. The spill study won't prove definitively whether BP oil caused any health problems. The Gulf region has so many other pollution sources, from chemical plants to boats, that proving the spill caused anyone's illness will be exceedingly hard.

Scientists believe some 130,000 people -- most in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida -- worked on the spill or signed up to do so. At the height of the spill cleanup, in mid-July, some 47,000 people were working on it. Some shuffled paper in offices. Some shoveled oil off beaches. Some manned boats near the site of the ruptured well, skimming and burning the slick of oil off the water. About 7,000 people are working on the cleanup today.

The BP spill poured an estimated 4.1 million gallons of oil into the Gulf between late April, when the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded, and mid-July, when the leaking well was capped.
Alleged victims would have to bring suits to collect any such damages. By contrast, federal law requires oil companies to pay the government lump-sum compensation for harm their spills are found to have caused the environment, from fish to marsh grass. (WSJ, 2/22/2011)

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