Have We Forgotten About Gulf Oil Syndrome?

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The Associated Press is reporting that Louisiana's Department of Health and Hospitals says 334 people have reported illnesses associated with oil and/or dispersants from the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. It seems Gulf Oil Syndrome may be hitting Gulf Coast residents even sooner than expected. The figures released Monday include 250 cleanup workers and 84 local residents. Click here to read the entire article.

It wasn't long after the April 20 explosion and subsequent oil spill began fouling the Gulf waters, that reports of flu-like symptoms - including nausea, headache, dizziness and even chest pains - were making headlines.

If you remember, in early June, I wrote an article called "Gulf Oil Syndrome: America's Next Health Crisis?"Some people said I was crazy - that I was fear mongering and trying to make something out of nothing. But my feeling was - and still is- that the long-term health effects of the BP oil spill on the cleanup workers and residents will be significant.

During my trip down to the Gulf of Mexico in mid-June to investigate the health of the workers cleaning up this disaster, I found it quite impossible to find a BP worker or fisherman willing to talk to me about his symptoms - or even their health concerns for the future. And those that I did speak to were too afraid to speak on the record for fear of losing their job with the British oil giant.

I was turned away when I attempted to gain access to BP's private medical tent where all the ailing workers were instructed to seek medical attention if they needed it at the end of their shift. This has made it very difficult to for those of us in the media to track and report the numbers of people getting sick from oil and chemical exposure, and I just hope that the CDC and the HHS are able to collect this data to formulate a plan for taking care of these people down the road.

On top of the crude oil in the Gulf, we all know there have been millions of gallons of chemical dispersants poured into the water to help break up and contain the oil. Federal regulators have been highly criticized for allowing BP to use what most people deem "excessive" amounts of chemical dispersants. The Environmental Protection Agency released the results of their study of these dispersants on Monday concluding the dispersant/oil mixture used to break up the crude in the Gulf of Mexico are no more toxic to aquatic life than the oil alone. But this study doesn't do much for me. How can the EPA compare the toxicity of the oil/dispersant mixture to that of the oil alone when we don't even know what we're dealing with because of the magnitude of this disaster?

As of Monday it is estimated that about 172 million gallons of oil had leaked into the Gulf, along with millions of gallons of chemical dispersants used by BP to help contain some of the leaking oil. But let's face it, who really knows what the actual number is? Transparency is certainly not in the water, and it's not in the handling of this crisis by the government. So, I guess we'll just have to wait and see what happens, but Gulf Oil Syndrome is not going away any time soon.