The government said microbes ate most of the oil, but lingering effects remain in the environment and humans. Image: Flickr/faungg CC-BY-SA

It has been a year since the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion triggered the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Although government scientists and environmentalists disagree on the degree of harm caused by the BP oil spill, the consensus is that things could have been a lot worse. However, many Louisiana residents involved in the oil spill cleanup are suffering from mysterious illnesses.

Oil-eating microbe to the rescue

The 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico totaled nearly 200 million gallons of crude, tens of millions of gallons of natural gas and 1.8 million gallons of a chemical oil dispersant called Corexit. Federal officials say that mother nature and collection efforts by man have eliminated most of the spilled oil from the gulf. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, 25 percent of the BP oil spill evaporated. The oil spill cleanup, including burning the oil on the surface, dispensed with about a third of it. About 13 percent of the spill was atomized and mixed with natural gas as it gushed from the ruptured well a mile below the surface, where it formed a drifting oil plume. Another 16 percent mixed with Corexit as it gushed from the wellhead. Then a previously undiscovered oi-eating microbe supposedly descended on the plume to digest the oil.

Government downplays environmental damage

Some environmentalists dispute the government’s claim that a new strain of oil-eating microbe digested about 30 percent, about 60 million gallons of crude. Even though scientists are no longer finding signs of oil or gas deep below the surface, the government suggests that between 11 and 30 percent of the 200 million gallon total is unaccounted for. Independent scientists have documented more than 100 square miles of diseased marshland. Certain species of fish reportedly have compromised immune systems. Some areas rich with undersea life are now barren. According to the government, 8,000 birds and 115 dolphins and whales were found dead or stranded during the BP spill in the months after the well was finally capped. The total number of dead fish, crustaceans, sea turtles and birds will probably never be known. Biologists cite the sudden collapse of the herring fishery in Alaska’s Prince William Sound three years after the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill as an example of how long oil spill effects take to become evident.

Oil spill illness

The 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is affecting humans a year later. The state of Louisiana has reported 415 cases of health problems linked to the spill, with symptoms including sore throats, irritated eyes, respiratory tract infections, headaches and nausea. Similar oil spill illness symptoms, including eye irritation, breathing problems, nausea and psychological stress were seen among responders to the Exxon Valdez spill. A major study of oil spill response workers was conducted by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences but not until six months after the disaster. Carcinogens such as Benzene and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons would be difficult to detect at that point. A year after the spill, more people are reportedly getting sick, and the trend is increasing.


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