I am sure this was not what was expected but those cleaning up the BP spill suffer from hypertension.
BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill workers who were highly exposed to oil-related chemicals and other particulates during the 2010 cleanup were more likely to be newly diagnosed with hypertension years after the spill, according to a new study released last week. Hypertension, or high blood pressure, increases the risk of heart disease and stroke, the two leading causes of death, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Our study demonstrates an association (between hypertension and participation in the spill cleanup), but it doesn’t rise to the level of causality at this point,” said Richard Kwok, an epidemiologist with the National Institute of Environmental Health Science and lead author of the study published in JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association.nola.com
As one who is on a blood pressure study I am aware what this could mean for the workers, especially if there are heart problems in the family.
Kwok said that when the workers participated in the study, conducted between 2011 and 2013, those with hypertension were urged to follow up with their doctors. The new findings are key because they focus on longer-term health consequences between one and three years after exposure, while earlier studies focused on health effects immediately after the spill, he added. The April 20, 2010 explosion and fire aboard the Transocean Deepwater Horizon oil rig that was drilling BP’s Macondo well killed 11 people, and triggered a blowout resulting in an 87-day-long spill of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico. A federal judge determined that 3.2 million barrels of oil were released in the water. Additional oil and natural gas were either transferred to ships or flared off. Workers used dispersants to attempt to break up oil at the surface and about a mile below the surface as it was released from the well. Some of the surface oil was corralled by ships and burned before it could wash ashore. But much of the oil did reach beaches from Texas to the Florida Panhandle, with the greatest amount found on Louisiana beaches, barrier islands and adjacent wetlands. Initial cleanup activities involving tens of thousands of workers included laying down and later recovering hundreds of miles of boom. Crews also sucked oil out of wetland areas and open water with pumps and absorbent pads, and collected oil mats and tarballs from beaches. Some of the recovery work lasted for several years, as oil mats and tarballs continued to wash ashore.
I know that the study I am in required basic documentation of the problem so there was a methodology of how they tracked the patients.
The study is the latest produced as part of the Gulf Long-term Follow-up Study program (GuLF Study), which has tracked the health of individuals involved in the cleanup effort. To be eligible to participate, workers had to have worked at least one day on any activity related to oil spill response and cleanup. The study also tracked people who received oil spill safety training, but were not hired for the job. More than 32,000 people in all were interviewed, though researchers only used data from 8,351 workers because others had hypertension diagnoses before the spill or provided incomplete information. To determine workers’ exposure to burning oil, researchers used self-reported information on the workers’ activities, location and time spent at work. The team also used computer modeling to estimate concentrations of burned oil particles at three sites: flaring at the Macondo wellhead, atop the water’s surface, and from gas and diesel-powered engines on the water. All three were measured from May to July 2010, when surface oil burning and flaring occurred. Exposure estimates were also broken down for two areas, the “hot zone” within a mile of the well; and what the study labeled the “source” area, between 1 and 5 nautical miles away. Researchers documented a “newly detected case of hypertension” when a worker reported either beginning to use antihypertensive medication after the spill, or had a blood pressure measurement that came back high. About 12% of study participants fell into either of those categories.
There are elements in oil that have long been associated for hypertension and this study validated those facts.
Researchers pointed out that “total petroleum hydrocarbons,” a group of chemicals found in crude oil, including that from the BP well, have long been associated with negative health outcomes related to hypertension. Past studies have also linked oil exposure during prolonged cleanup activities to “oxidative stress,” or an imbalance between the body’s production of free radicals and antioxidants. Oxidative stress can damage tissues, DNA and proteins in the body. Tiny particulates created by burning oil can contribute to atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries, which also can lead to hypertension, other studies have shown.
The settlement with BP did open up medical treatment so that should be covered.
Oil spill workers have had the opportunity to apply for financial and other healthcare benefits as part of a settlement with BP and its drilling partners, which is overseen by a federal judge. Individuals who are part of the settlement and have been diagnosed with hypertension also are eligible to participate in a so-called “Back-End Litigation Option”, available for those diagnosed with health issues directly related to the spill after April 16, 2012. However, they have to file a notice of intent to sue with the medical claims administrator within four years of their initial diagnosis, under the settlement rules. The medical claims administrator would not comment when asked whether this new study would restart that four-year window for filing a claim, now that the link between high blood pressure and exposure to spill pollutants has been better established.
I hope the claims administrator will be kind to the workers as this can be a serious problem depending on how high the pressure is. They did the work and should be protected from the damage.