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'BP crud' afflicts Gulf Coast residents

The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico may have caused serious health consequences for coastal residents, according to a recent report. If the cases are confirmed, a spill on the B.C. coast could be a major health hazard as well as an environmental disaster.

In Covering Health, a blog for medical journalists, Andrew Van Dam posts on the work of Glynn Wilson, who interviewed Gulf Coast residents this summer.

Wilson had published a long report on September 7 in The Locust Fork News-Journal, an Alabama online journal.

The report asserted: "Now, along the entire coast of the Gulf of Mexico, there is the BP Crud, afflicting workers and the general population from Louisiana to Florida":

When the Deepwater Horizon oil rig blew up in the Gulf of Mexico on April 20, Robin Young, a 47-year-old director of guest services for a property management company in Orange Beach, Alabama, was gearing up for what promised to be the best tourist season on the coast in years.

From the city of New Orleans to the Florida panhandle, communities were finally starting to feel like they were recovering from the devastation left in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Ivan.

Since suffering a debilitating bout of what locals are calling the “BP Crud,” however, like thousands of other people along the coast due to their exposure to the oil and chemical dispersants, she is now part of a growing community of activists along the coast who are worried about their health.

Just a few days after BP’s oil made landfall along the Alabama Gulf Coast in June, Ms. Young’s symptoms started with “a fiery, burning sore throat,” she said. Then came the horrible, constant cough, followed by an achy feeling much like a severe flu virus — and a lethargy that kept her in bed for two weeks solid. Her memory started playing tricks on her, and her motor skills and even hand-to-eye coordination went south.

Lab tests on Young and others were disturbing:

What they found in the blood tests was a stew of toxic chemicals directly associated with oil and gas production and the chemical dispersant Corexit, including ethylbenzene, xylenehigh and high levels of hexane, a hydrocarbon chiefly obtained by the refining of crude oil.

The long-term toxicity of hexane in humans is extensive peripheral nervous system failure. The initial symptoms are tingling and cramps in the arms and legs, followed by general muscular weakness.

In severe cases, skeletal muscles atrophy and those exposed suffer a loss of coordination and vision problems, the very symptoms Ms. Young reported.

Wilson's article points out that similar health effects have been observed after the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska, the collapse of the World Trade Center towers on 9/11, and the release of toxic chemicals in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

Such effects would likely appear also in residents of coastal B.C. after a tanker spill or pipeline leak.

The report includes a 10-minute video interview with Robin Young.

Crawford Kilian is a contributing editor of The Tyee.

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