When President Obama outlined his administration’s plans to curb the ongoing BP oil spill in his national address last night, he mentioned the “wrenching anxiety” that local fishers feel at the potential loss of their livelihoods. But Obama failed to mention another cause of disquiet: the fact that the oil and its chemical dispersants may cause major complications for pregnant women and their unborn children living along the Gulf Coast.
According to Lucinda Marshall at Truthout, young children and babies in utero are at a major risk of chemical poisoning after oil spills because their immune systems are not fully developed, leaving them incapacitated to fight off dangerous compounds. While the National Institutes of Health have provided information on the way endocrine disrupters – common in both the oil and the substances used to clean it up – scientists aren’t clear on the effects of the chemicals, in part because until very recently, they had no idea which chemicals were being disseminated.
Now, without first telling Nalco Holding Co., the manufacturer of the dispersants that BP is using, the Environmental Protection Agency has released a list of ingredients used to break down the oil. And – shocker – the news isn’t pretty. One of the ingredients, 2-butoxyethanol, caused major health problems among cleanup workers on the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill. That, plus the oil itself, could spell major risks to pregnant women and their fetuses.
According to Dr. Gina Solomon, senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council, “Some of the volatile chemicals in oil have been linked to miscarriage, preterm birth, and low birth weight, so it is a good idea for pregnant women to avoid the areas where there are elevated levels of VOCs [Volatile Organic Compounds] in the air. These are areas that include noticeable smells of oil or visible oil and also any areas where the EPA monitoring system detects elevated levels. The EPA air monitoring results are being updated regularly at www.epa.gov/bpspill. To be cautious, pregnant women may choose to avoid any areas directly along the waterfront and beachfront, even when oil is not visible.”
That’s easy enough advice to follow for would-be Gulf Coast vacationers (as if there are any this season). But for pregnant women living near the spill zone – where oil and dispersants reenter the atmosphere after being burned off the water – avoiding chemical exposure is akin to turning a blind eye to the disaster itself.
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