ProPublica

Journalism in the Public Interest

States’ Tally of Spill Worker Illnesses Exceeds BP’s Total

The latest numbers from the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals are in, showing 109 reports of illnesses from spill workers and others after exposure to polluted water, tar balls, liquid oil, odor and fumes, dispersant, and heat in the Gulf. (You can read the state's report itself in our document viewer.)

Total health complaints recorded by the state agency have gone up by 35 percent since the previous report, released last week.

Seventy-four of the complaints were from Gulf cleanup workers--up from 51 in the previous report. The rest were from the general public. A few things to note: According to the agency, the complaints recorded are only the cases that warranted access to medical care. As we've noted before, it's difficult to prove causation in chemical exposure cases, and this report does not attempt to do this.

The complaints seem to be similar, but since the last agency surveillance report, symptoms of throat irritation, nausea, vomiting and rashes have either doubled or more than doubled among the reports from workers. 

Nineteen cases of illness have been reported in Alabama by people exposed to chemicals from the Gulf spill, according to a spokesman from the Alabama Department of Public Health. State health agencies in Florida and Mississippi told me they'd received no such complaints, but between Louisiana and Alabama, the illnesses potentially due to chemical exposure exceed the numbers for all illnesses recorded by BP and the Deepwater Horizon Unified Command.

An illness and injury document released by BP recorded 86 worker illnesses between April 22 and June 10, but as we've noted, no breakdown was provided for illnesses due to chemical exposure.

The EPA recently posted a note at the top of its air monitoring page saying that it has found "odor-causing pollutants associated with petroleum products along the coastline at low levels," and that the chemicals "may cause short-lived effects like headache, eye, nose and throat irritation, or nausea." We've called the EPA to ask for more details, but have not yet received an answer.

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