The Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill

The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is a national tragedy. We express sympathy for the families of those who lost their lives in the gulf that Tuesday, and as an environmental company with close proximity to the Gulf of Mexico, Sentry Air Systems also fears for the health and safety of the environment, wildlife, and community who lay in the path of this disaster.

Image Credit: NASA/MODIS Rapid Response Team

As the ingredients of the dispersants being used in the oil clean-up effort are becoming available to the public, the hazards involved with this situation are becoming more obvious and more dangerous. As a company who specializes in air quality, one of our concerns is the respiratory effects of these chemicals and the oil itself.

According to the examiner.com:

Oil is made up primarily of hydrocarbons, which can cause irritation to respiratory airways and skin. The hydrocarbons that are the most hazardous to humans are known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs). VOCs that pose a major risk to our health are benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylene. Oil also contains small amounts of toxins such as mercury, arsenic, lead, and hydrogen sulfide. Headaches, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, anemia, confusion, rapid heart rate, irritation of the eyes and throat, and difficulty breathing are some of the side effects of inhaling oil fumes. Lengthy exposure to high doses of these toxic vapors can even lead to a chemically induced pneumonia. People who have direct skin contact with the crude oil or oil-contaminated water can experience skin-irritation, rashes, and oil-clogged pores. [1]

Corexit 9500 and 9527 are two of the chemicals that BP is dispersing into the gulf (more than 1.1 million gallons according to the New York Times) in order to combat the oil spill. The NY Times also explains that “The 9527 formula contains 2-butoxyethanol, pinpointed as the cause of lingering health problems experienced by cleanup workers after the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill, and propylene glycol, a commonly used solvent.” [2]

Although environmental groups are not pleased with the news of this chemical use, the benefit of the release of these ingredients is that we are now aware of what relief workers and volunteers are being exposed to and can therefore take precautions.

If you’re in close proximity to the Gulf of Mexico, we recommend checking the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) website for up-to-date information on Air Quality and all matters pertaining to the oil spill. If you have questions regarding ventilation for specific chemicals, we would be happy to provide consultation. You can reach us at 800.799.4609.

[1] “Gulf of Mexico oil spill fuels major health hazards”, http://www.examiner.com/x-12517-Miami-Holistic-Health-Examiner~y2010m6d8-Gulf-of-Mexico-oil-spill-fuels-major-health-hazards

[2] “Ingredients of Controversial Dispersants Used on Gulf Spill Are Secrets No More”, http://www.nytimes.com/gwire/2010/06/09/09greenwire-ingredients-of-controversial-dispersants-used-42891.html