Study finds increased cancer risk in Gulf spill cleanup crews

Workers exposed to the spill have "significantly altered blood profiles"

Topics: Gulf Oil Spill, Cancer, BP, research study,

The workers called upon to clean up BP’s mess in the wake of the 2010 Gulf spill are at an increased risk for blood-related disorders, including cancer, a study found.

The research, which was published in the American Journal of Medicine, found that compared to those who had not been exposed to crude oil — or the chemical dispersants used to clean it up — workers displayed significantly altered blood profiles, liver enzymes and somatic symptoms. Put together, the researchers told Fuel Fix, the signs indicate a number of potential health problems:

The workers had decreased levels of blood-clotting platelets, as well as lower numbers for blood urea nitrogen and creatinine, which are indicators of kidney health.

The amount of three liver enzymes — alkaline phosphatase, aspartate transaminase and alanine transaminase — in the cleanup workers’ blood also was higher than the non-exposed patients, a warning sign of liver dysfunction and damage.

[Lead author Mark] D’Andrea said various studies show that patients with damaged bone marrow have higher incidence of possible leukemias, lymphoma and myelomas, and that liver damage increases risk of liver, pancreas and gallbladder cancer.

The study followed 117 workers, only a small fraction of the 170,000-plus people called upon to clean up the disastrous spill. They complained most commonly of headaches, but also of shortness of breath, skin rash, cough, dizzy spells, fatigue, painful joints, night sweats and chest pain.



BP has been fighting hard against settlement claims (the patients in this study were found through a lawyer who’s representing them in their own suit against the company). Robert Dudley, BP’s CEO, told Businessweek last month that millions of dollars in payouts are going to people who weren’t directly affected by the spill, and that “the Gulf has bounced back really well.” But this research, at least, suggests that we’ve yet to see the full extent of damage caused by the spill.

Lindsay Abrams

Lindsay Abrams is a staff writer at Salon, reporting on all things sustainable. Follow her on Twitter @readingirl, email labrams@salon.com.

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