Gulf oil spill: Fouling air as well as water?
The EPA says some communities in Louisiana face a 'moderate health risk' due to hydrocarbon fumes from the Gulf oil spill. Researchers will report air quality findings this week.
Questions about air pollution related to the BP oil spill may get some clearer answers this coming week, as university researchers and a Louisiana environmental group release initial findings of their independent analysis of the Gulf region’s air quality.Skip to next paragraph
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Last week, the EPA said that residents of two hard hit coastal communities in Louisiana – Grand Isle and Venice – face a “moderate health risk” due to hydrocarbon fumes. In Terrebonne Parish, residents of the town of Cocodrie and the surrounding area are also reporting strong odors of petroleum.
For months since BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil well blew, residents along the Gulf Coast, including many in New Orleans and other metro regions miles away from the shore, have said they smell fumes from the oil spill. Some have reported symptoms ranging from red eyes and runny noses to sinus infections and flu-like symptoms.
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Researchers for the Louisiana Bucket Brigade – an environmental non-profit – soon will release air quality findings based on their independent research and analysis of data provided by the EPA and state monitoring agencies. At the University of New Orleans, Dr. Bhaskar Kura is completing a separate analysis which he will present the week of July 26.
Anna Hrybyk of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade said the environmental group is analyzing data on benzene levels in Louisiana 20 times above normal. In another finding, air samples taken in mid-May outside the organization’s office near downtown New Orleans showed elevated levels of hexane and heptane, neurotoxins found in petroleum. [Editor's note: The previous two paragraphs have been changed to accurately describe the work of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade.]
“The levels were similar to what you would be exposed to pumping gas at a gas station – not high enough for a public health agency to issue a warning, but it does effect quality of life,” said Ms. Hrybyk.
Dr. Kura, a professor of civil and environmental engineering, said a full understanding of how the spill is affecting the region’s air quality will take years.
“I know the public is very concerned, but scientists want to see all the available data and interpret their interrelationships before they start giving full answers,” said Kura, whose data includes air samples he took offshore in June, combined with data from the EPA and the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality. “This is very difficult to look into and will require a lot of funding and manpower for further sampling.”