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NIH Record - National Institutes of Health

Gulf Spill Oil Dispersants Associated with Health Symptoms in Cleanup Workers

Workers who were likely exposed to dispersants while cleaning up the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill experienced a range of health symptoms including cough and wheeze, and skin and eye irritation, according to NIH scientists. The study appeared online Sept. 15 in Environmental Health Perspectives and is the first research to examine dispersant-related health symptoms in humans.

Oil dispersants are a blend of chemical compounds used to break down oil slicks into smaller drops of oil, making them easily degraded by natural processes or diluted by large volumes of water. The study estimated the likelihood of exposure to dispersants, based on the types of jobs the workers did and where. Individuals who handled dispersants, worked near where dispersants were being applied or had contact with dispersant equipment reported the symptoms they experienced during oil spill cleanup as part of the Gulf Long-term Follow-up (GuLF) study.

The research team found that workers exposed to dispersants were more likely to experience certain symptoms—cough, wheeze, tightness in the chest and burning in the eyes, nose, throat or lungs—than those who were not exposed.

Dr. Dale Sandler, GuLF study leader at NIEHS, said the findings only apply to workers involved in the cleanup effort and not the general public.

“The health effects that we see in the workers don’t necessarily apply to the community at large, although many of the workers live in affected areas,” Sandler said.

The NIH Record

The NIH Record, founded in 1949, is the biweekly newsletter for employees of the National Institutes of Health.

Published 25 times each year, it comes out on payday Fridays.

Associate Editor: Carla Garnett
Carla.Garnett@nih.gov

Staff Writers:

Eric Bock
Eric.Bock@nih.gov

Dana Talesnik
Dana.Talesnik@nih.gov

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