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Health Consequences among Subjects Involved in Gulf Oil Spill Clean-up Activities

Published:September 18, 2013DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.amjmed.2013.05.014

      Abstract

      Background

      Oil spills are known to affect human health through the exposure of inherent hazardous chemicals such as para-phenols and volatile benzene. This study assessed the adverse health effects of the Gulf oil spill exposure in subjects participating in the clean-up activity along the coast of Louisiana.

      Methods

      This retrospective study included subjects that had been exposed and unexposed to the oil spill and dispersant. Using medical charts, clinical data including white blood cell count, platelets count, hemoglobin, hematocrit, blood urea nitrogen, creatinine, alkaline phosphatase (ALP), aspartate amino transferase (AST), alanine amino transferase (ALT), and somatic symptom complaints by the subjects were reviewed and analyzed.

      Results

      A total of 247 subjects (oil spill exposed, n = 117 and unexposed, n = 130) were included. Hematologic analysis showed that platelet counts (× 103 per μL) were significantly decreased in the exposed group compared with those in the group unexposed to the oil spill (252.1 ± 51.8 vs 269.6 ± 77.3, P = .024). Conversely, the hemoglobin (g per dL) and hematocrit (%) levels were significantly increased among oil spill-exposed subjects compared with the unexposed subjects (P = .000). Similarly, oil spill-exposed subjects had significantly higher levels of ALP (76.3 ± 21.3 vs 61.2 ± 26.9 IU/L, P = .000), AST (31.0 ± 26.3 vs 22.8 ± 11.8 IU/L, P = .004), and ALT (34.8 ± 26.6 vs 29.8 ± 27 IU/L, P = .054) compared with the unexposed subjects.

      Conclusion

      The results of this study indicate that clean-up workers exposed to the oil spill and dispersant experienced significantly altered blood profiles, liver enzymes, and somatic symptoms.

      Keywords

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          We read with interest a recent report by D'Andrea and Reddy1 describing differences in hematologic and hepatic blood profiles among a cohort of workers involved in Gulf oil spill cleanup activities relative to an unexposed cohort. They report that cleanup workers had lower average levels of platelets, blood urea nitrogen, and creatinine, and higher levels of hemoglobin, hematocrit, alkaline phosphatase, aspartate aminotransferase, and alanine aminotransferase. The authors also postulate that “the oil spill exposure appears to play a role in the development of hematologic and hepatic toxicity.” The relation of these findings to exposures associated with cleanup activities cannot be interpreted given the current study design, lack of exposure history, and laboratory analysis.
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          We are writing this letter in response to the recent article in The American Journal of Medicine by D'Andrea and Reddy.1 Our primary concerns are with their convenience sampling and case-control mismatching, and the authors' conclusions about the clinical results. The clinical results indicate that both groups in their study, unexposed and exposed, have clinical biomarker values for both liver function and blood profiles that essentially fall within the normal ranges for healthy adult individuals (Table).
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