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Gina Solomon’s Blog

BP Coughs Up Another Drop of Air Quality Data: Not Reassuring

Gina Solomon

Posted June 10, 2010

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New BP air testing results were posted yesterday from April 27 – May 26 for benzene, total hydrocarbons, and 2-Butoxyethanol. There's still no information about other oil-related air toxic chemicals such as naphthalene or hydrogen sulfide, offshore.

The BP sampling plan focuses only on workers on the large ships, and appears to not include monitoring for the people on the approximately 1,500 small fishing boats helping to clean up the spill. These people are dismissed as of "Reduced Priority" on page 4 of the BP sampling plan.

Nearly 70% (275 out of 399) of offshore air samples had detectable levels of hydrocarbons and nearly 1 in 5 (73 out of 399) had levels greater than 10 parts per million (ppm), which is an EPA cutoff level for further investigation.

6 samples exceed 100 ppm which in a previous monitoring summary was labeled as the action limit.  This label appears to have been removed in the most recent summary document. No information is given on where these samples, or the 4 found to be between 50 and 100 ppm, were taken.

20 (5%) samples had detectable levels of benzene with measurements up to 0.5 ppm. The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Recommended Exposure Limit (REL) is 0.1 ppm.

20% (29 out of 146) samples had detectable levels of 2-Butoxyethanol with measurements up to 10 ppm.  This range encompasses the NIOSH REL for occupational exposure to 2-Butoxyethanol of 5 ppm. The BP document cites the OSHA PEL for 2-Butoxyethanol of 50 ppm, which would not protect workers.

In fact, the NIOSH level is also not health protective enough. As Mark Catlin just commented on one of my blogs: "The Occupational exposure limits, like OSHA and NIOSH use, assume worker exposures are limited to an 8 hour day and 40 hour week, with unexposed time the rest of the day and week. If longer hours are worked, the occupational exposure limits need to be reduced. For example, one simple method would reduce the NIOSH REL of 0.1 ppm to 0.05 ppm if 80 hour weeks are worked. Exxon did not account for this when reporting worker air sampling data in Alaska in 1989." Check out Mark's excellent Facebook page on protecting the health of Gulf workers.

I'm headed to Capitol Hill today to testify at a Congressional Hearing on the health effects of the BP oil disaster. I'll definitely talk about the need for better worker protection from air hazards.

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AllenXJun 11 2010 12:41 AM

BP, appears to be more interested with profits than people, safety, and the environment. The scope of this disaster will surely be seen in a long term inconvenience. The government should start working on giving the initiators of this project punishment and prison time, not just a payable fine. We are losing almost the entire eco system of the areas affected by the spill. The money being spent for the recovery and clean could have been spent for other projects. BP and the government will be /">spending billion dollars just to cope up with this disaster.

Elizabeth TarsiJun 11 2010 10:05 AM

I heard you speak at the hearing yesterday on the environmental and health risks caused by the BP oil spill. I was very shocked to find out that so much informtation pertaining to chemicals that people are exposed to daily, are kept secret. Im very impressed with your research and I am sure that your work with the oil spill will be invaluable to those in need. Thank You!

Truther for lifeJun 12 2010 12:33 AM

Air Quality in Gulf of Mexico at Dangerous Levels
Benzene level at 3,000 parts per billion! safe level are 0ppb.

Paula ParrishJun 14 2010 01:05 PM

I live on the west coast of Florida just south of Sarasota in Nokomis, Florida on the coast line about 1 mile from the beach. How far will this toxic air travel? Will the entire west coast of Florida on the beach line be effected?

Erin L.Jun 15 2010 08:29 PM

Hi, I live on Mobile Bay in Alabama. I am frustrated because I check the EPA's air quality website on a regular basis. Today we were in "good" and "moderate" zones for particle matter and "good" for ozone. The air, though, was horrendous. I have a baby and I am pregnant. We avoided being outside all day, but even walking to our car was difficult.
Please help us with making decisions on staying or evacuating. I can't imagine my family breathing in this air for a matter of months. It is truly disheartening, especially because the oil hasn't even hit our town's beaches yet. Thanks for all you do.

Sandra RodriguezJun 17 2010 09:14 PM

I live 5 miles from shore in Naples Florida. On June 10, I became ill with a headache so bad I wanted to die. I have been in and out of the hospital, but they cannot find anything wrong. This is day 8 of the headache, and I can only function with heavy painkillers. I am allergic to benzene, which causes my skin to break out in sores. I moved to Florida from the Chicago area to avoid benzene from industry and it has made a world of difference. I have sores on my skin now, which leads me to believe that I am being exposed to benzene. Unsafe levels cause headaches. I tried to find out what the benzene level is in Florida along the gulf coast. All I can find is the vague AQI that Erin referred to. Our family will be evacuating in 7 days. I pray for those who cannot. Erin - trust your instinct and leave if you can.

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