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Gina Solomon’s Blog

Gulf Oil Spill Air Quality Updated 6/20/10: Louisiana

Gina Solomon

Posted May 24, 2010 in Health and the Environment, Moving Beyond Oil

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The oil spilling into the Gulf, and the dispersants being sprayed on the oil, contain some chemicals that evaporate into the air and could be carried in the wind toward shore. Residents in some of the onshore areas closest to the oil spill have reported odors and symptoms such as headaches, dizziness, nausea, eye irritation, and respiratory problems.  The EPA has been responsive to public concerns about hazards in the air, and has set up a network of stationary and mobile monitors along the coastline. Our analysis of the EPA data identifies some levels that could raise health concerns. If the winds shift or the oil moves, we expect to see EPA air monitoring results from other locations. This blog post will be updated regularly with the new EPA data, so bookmark this page and check back here for new information.  

The residents and workers in the path of any fumes resulting from the oil spill need access to high quality comprehensive data on the threats in their air. As the winds shift, communities and scientists need to be able to see where the monitors are located, and get rapid and regular updates. Unfortunately, the EPA data are currently being posted with a delay of several days, so we’ll get the information up here as soon as it’s available, and we’re urging EPA to post the data more quickly. Further monitoring of air quality in these areas will be essential to identify threats and protect public health.

Of the pollutants EPA is testing for, the Total VOCs, hydrogen sulfide, benzene and naphthalene are the most worrisome for the health of communities living and working in the areas near the monitors.  EPA is providing daily summaries of their monitoring data at various locations for PM, Total VOCs and hydrogen sulfide. They are also providing some limited data on specific VOCs (such as benzene) and some semi-volatile chemicals such as naphthalene.

If you just want the latest updates for your area, skip this section, but if you want to know how we’re interpreting the EPA data, read this next technical bit.

VOCs:

When the volatile chemicals from oil are monitored together as a group they are referred to as total Volatile Organic Compounds (or VOCs).  I summarized the health effects of VOCs in a prior blog post. Unfortunately, there are no regulatory standards for ‘safe’ levels of total VOCs in the air; all of the regulatory standards are focused on specific VOCs. OK, so let’s look at specific VOCs: The most worrisome VOC in oil is benzene because it is known to cause leukemia in humans. Unfortunately, since the data reported by EPA sometimes only includes total VOCs, we don’t know what fraction of that number consists of benzene; in fact, there are no data at all (so far) on what fraction of the oil-related VOCs in the Gulf consist of benzene. So in order to put the EPA data into context, we came up with an estimate of what level of total VOCs could exceed regulatory standards for benzene.

Here’s how we made the calculation: Benzene levels in crude oil range up to 1 percent by weight (source: KIRKELEIT et al 2006: Benzene exposure on a Crude Oil Production Vessel). However, benzene would make up a much larger fraction of the VOCs that evaporate off the oil. A National Academy of Sciences (NAS) report cites an estimate that about 40 percent of crude oil evaporates after it is spilled. We divided 40% by total benzene levels in crude oil (1%), to come up with an estimate of 2.5 percent benzene in the VOC fraction. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Recommended Exposure Limit for benzene is 0.1 (which isn’t necessarily the best benchmark, but it seems to be the best of the options), so any total VOC levels over [0.1 / 0.025] = 4 parts per million (PPM) could present a health concern. EPA seems to be using a cut-off of 10 ppm for their decisions on follow-up sampling, which might be based on a benzene fraction in the VOCs of 1%, which we do not think is sufficiently health-protective. Others could argue that levels of total VOCs under 4 ppm may be hazardous, so it’s clear that this issue is somewhat controversial. Based on this, we recommend the following guidelines for health risk levels from total VOCs:

  • Relatively low health risk: Less than 4 ppm total VOCs
  • Possible health risk: 4 to 10 ppm total VOCs
  • Significant potential for health risk: Above 10 ppm total VOCs

Note: The following section was updated on 6/20/10 to reflect a clearer set of cut-offs.

Hydrogen Sulfide:

Hydrogen sulfide (H2S) is a gas that is associated with the oil coming out of the Gulf well. H2S smells like rotten eggs and can irritate the eyes, cause breathing problems (particularly in individuals with underlying diseases like asthma), and result in nausea, dizziness, confusion and headaches. The following regulatory standards have been established:

  • ·                     NIOSH long-term workplace exposure = 10 parts per million (ppm)
  • ·                     EPA 8-hour limit to prevent health symptoms in sensitive people = 0.33 ppm
  • ·                     ATSDR Minimal Risk Level = 0.070 ppm (acute)*

*Note: The ATSDR Minimal Risk Level for H2S is below the limit of detection of most of the air quality monitors being used along the Gulf coast. It is unclear whether reported detections of H2S that are at the limit of detection of the equipment are real and meaningful. We will continue to advocate for improved monitoring.

Benzene

Benzene is one of the more toxic chemicals in crude oil. Like most volatile organic compounds (VOCs), at sufficiently high levels, it can cause dizziness, confusion, headaches and nausea, as well as airway irritation. It is known to cause leukemia and other blood disorders in humans. Long-term exposures, even at low levels, can be very hazardous. For this reason, the following regulatory standards have been established:

  • ·                     NIOSH long-term workplace exposure = 0.1 ppm
  • ·                     ATSDR Minimal Risk Level = 0.003 ppm (chronic)

Toluene

Toluene is like most VOCs in that at sufficiently high levels, it can cause dizziness, confusion, headaches and nausea, as well as airway irritation. High levels of toluene also can cause birth defects and reproductive harm. The following regulatory standards have been established:

  • ·                     NIOSH long-term workplace exposure = 100 ppm
  • ·                     ATSDR Minimal Risk Level = 0.080 ppm (chronic)

Ethylbenzene

Ethylbenzene is like most VOCs in that at sufficiently high levels, it can cause dizziness, confusion, headaches and nausea, as well as airway irritation. In animals, relatively low levels of ethylbenzene cause damage to the inner ear and hearing, as well as to the kidneys. It is considered a possible human carcinogen. The following regulatory standards have been established:

  • ·                     NIOSH long-term workplace exposure = 100 ppm
  • ·                     ATSDR Minimal Risk Level = 0.3 ppm (chronic)

Xylene

Xylene is like most VOCs in that at sufficiently high levels, it can cause dizziness, confusion, headaches and nausea, as well as airway irritation. The following regulatory standards have been established:

  • ·                     NIOSH long-term workplace exposure = 100 ppm
  • ·                     ATSDR Minimal Risk Level 0.05 ppm (chronic)

Naphthalene

Naphthalene smells like tar or creosote. It is a chemical in crude oil that can evaporate gradually into the air. In animals, naphthalene causes cancer of the airways and lungs, and rare neuroblastomas. The following regulatory standards have been established:

  • ·                     NIOSH long-term workplace exposure = 10 ppm
  • ·                     ATSDR Minimal Risk Level = 0.0007 ppm (chronic)

Here’s the summary of the EPA air monitoring data.  I’ll be updating this information daily as new information becomes available, so bookmark this blog and check back!

Summary of data prior to May 21, 2010:

Venice, LA

Near Venice, LA, the EPA is conducting air quality monitoring at fixed locations and as part of mobile sampling conducted in the TAGA bus. Sampling data from April 28th through May 16th is currently available for five fixed locations for the following pollutants, PM, Total VOCs, hydrogen sulfide, benzene, ethylbenzene, toluene, xylene and naphthalene – although not all locations were monitored every day and not all pollutants were included. Maps of some of the monitoring stations are located on the EPA website.  Roughly, these stations are/were located as follows:

  • Violas Ln and Hwy 23, Venice (V01)
  • Cypress Cove Rd and Coast Guard Rd, Venice (V02)
  • Hwy 23 and Riverside Lane, Boothville, Venice (V03)
  • Fort Jackson, Boothville (V04 & V05)

Total VOCs

EPA has posted sampling results from April 28th through May 16th from the fixed monitoring stations.  The daily average one hour measurement ranged from 0.05 to 2.7 ppm at these stations and the maximum levels recorded ranged from 0.1 to 5.91 ppm.  During this time period none of the daily average measurements exceeded public health levels of concern.

Air Toxics (benzene and naphthalene)

EPA data on benzene and naphthalene levels is available for the fixed monitoring stations from April 28th through May 12th and just benzene from the mobile TAGA bus from May 5th.  The majority of the sampling results for these chemicals at the fixed monitoring sites were below the detectable limit of the instrument, and we do not yet know whether the instruments are sufficiently sensitive to detect levels of concern.  However, both chemicals were found in the air during this time period.  The highest levels recorded were 0.09 ppm for benzene and 0.003 ppm for naphthalene.  Along the TAGA bus route, the benzene levels ranged up to 0.025 ppm. Detectable levels of both benzene and naphthalene were lower than workplace standards and levels where there would be acute health effects.  Continued exposures for long periods of time to these chemicals at the higher levels recorded could pose long-term health risks. 

Hydrogen Sulfide

EPA has posted sampling results from May 2nd through May 16th from three of the fixed monitoring stations (V02, V03 and V05).  The daily average hydrogen sulfide measurements recorded at these stations ranged from undetectable to 0.846 ppm. However, we have learned that some of the instruments EPA is using have limits of detection that are significantly above health-based thresholds, so we are not confident that these results are appropriately capturing levels of concern. The maximum level recorded was 1.2 ppm.  The average daily level at two monitoring stations during this time exceeded the EPA threshold where acute symptoms would be expected (0.3 ppm).  These measurements were recorded at the following locations on the following days:

  • Hwy 23 and Riverside Ln, Boothville, Venice (V03) – May 10th 2010 (avg 0.314, max 1.238 ppm)
  • Fort Jackson, Boothville (V05) – May 3rd 2010 (avg 0.846, max 1.2 ppm)

Chalmette, LA

Near Chalmette, LA, the EPA is conducting air quality monitoring at fixed locations and as part of mobile sampling conducted in the TAGA bus. Sampling data from May 2nd through May 16th is currently available for five fixed locations for the following pollutants, PM, Total VOCs, benzene, ethylbenzene, toluene, xylene and naphthalene – although not all locations were monitored every day and not all pollutants were included. Maps of some of the monitoring stations are located on the EPA website.  Roughly, these stations are/were located as follows:

  • E Livingston Ave and W Judge Perez Dr, Chalmette (C01)
  • St. Bernard Park Way and Heumann Nursery Rd, Outside of Poydras (C02)
  • The end of Hopedale Hwy (Hwy 624) (C03)
  • W Judge Perez Dr and Aycock St. Arabi (C04)
  • Florissant Hwy and Citrus Ave, Alluvial City (C05)
  • Total VOCs

EPA has posted sampling results from May 2nd through May 16th from the fixed monitoring stations.  The daily average one hour measurement ranged from 0.007 to 3.391 ppm at these stations and the maximum levels recorded ranged from 0.094 to 26.6 ppm.  During this time period none of the daily average measurements exceeded public health levels of concern.

Air Toxics (benzene and naphthalene)

EPA data on benzene and naphthalene levels is available for the fixed monitoring stations from May2nd through May 13th and just benzene from the mobile TAGA bus monitoring on May 7th.   The majority of the sampling results for these chemicals at the fixed monitoring sites were found to be below the detectable limit of the instrument.  However, benzene was found in the air during the time period.  The highest level recorded was .001 ppm.  Along the TAGA bus route, the benzene levels ranged up to 0.012 ppm. Detectable levels of benzene were lower than workplace standards and levels where there would be acute or long-term health effects. 

Hydrogen Sulfide

Levels of hydrogen sulfide at the monitoring locations near Chalmette are not currently available from EPA.

------------------------------------------

May 22, 2010 Update:

Chalmette: EPA tested for toluene at three monitoring sites and found a maximum level of .0003 ppm. These monitoring stations report levels that are not likely to be a health risk.

Venice: EPA tested for toluene at three monitoring sites and found a maximum level of .0002 ppm. These monitoring stations report levels that are not likely to be a health risk.

May 23, 2010 Update:

Chalmette: EPA tested for toluene at three monitoring sites and found a maximum level of .0003 ppm.  EPA tested for xylene at three monitoring sites. The average was .002 ppm and the maximum was .005. EPA tested for ethylbenzene at three monitoring sites and found a maximum level of .0012 ppm. These monitoring stations report levels that are not likely to be a health risk.

Venice: EPA tested for toluene at three monitoring sites and found a maximum level of .00077 ppm.  EPA tested for xylene at three monitoring sites and found a maximum level of .0003 ppm. EPA tested for benzene at three monitoring sites and found a maximum level of .0002 ppm. These monitoring stations report levels that are not likely to be a health risk.

May 24, 2010 Update:

Chalmette: EPA tested for toluene at three monitoring sites. The average for toluene was .00028 ppm and the maximum was .0003. These monitoring stations report levels that are not likely to be a health risk.

May 25, 2010 Update:

Chalmette: EPA tested for toluene at three monitoring sites. The average was .0002 and the maximum was .0003 ppm.  EPA tested for benzene at three monitoring sites and found a maximum level of .0002 ppm. These monitoring stations report levels that are not likely to be a health risk.

Venice: EPA tested for benzene at three monitoring sites. The average was .00028 ppm and the maximum was .0003 ppm. EPA tested for toluene at three monitoring sites. The average was .0004 ppm and the maximum was .00066 ppm.  EPA tested for xylene at three monitoring sites and found a maximum level of .0005. These monitoring stations report levels that are not likely to be a health risk.

May 26, 2010 Update:

Chalmette: EPA tested for toluene at three monitoring sites. The average for toluene was .00019 ppm and the maximum was .0002. These monitoring stations report levels that are not likely to be a health risk.

May 27, 2010 Update:

Chalmette: EPA tested for toluene at three monitoring sites. The average was .0003 ppm and the maximum was .0004 ppm.  EPA tested for xylene at three monitoring sites and found a maximum level of .00017 ppm. EPA tested for benzene at three monitoring sites and found a maximum level of .0002 ppm. These monitoring stations report levels that are not likely to be a health risk.

For data since May 26th, see my new blog which will be posted tomorrow!

http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/gsolomon/air_quality_tables.html

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Comments

Billy S.May 24 2010 03:37 PM

This is a helpful analysis of the air quality issues. I wonder, however, whether there are ways in which the EPA's manner of testing may be under recording the airborne pollutants. For instance, in New Orleans right now, sometimes it smells like a gas station and sometimes it does not. If you measured when it really smelled, would the numbers turn out much worse? Are they testing at specific times that would either maximize or minimize the readings? And is it true that the gas station smell means that there is benzene in the air, as was stated on the EPA
s website a couple of weeks ago. Can benzene be in the air at safe levels?

Marie CuratoloMay 24 2010 08:23 PM

Although I am glad to see that there are at least studies being done on air pollutants in this area, I recognize quite a few potential confounds in these studies. Confounds in science are quite common which is why it is important to constantly be developing better research and methodology in order to achieve more confidence in results. This article does do a good job of recognizing at least one of the confounds: The detecting ability of the EPA's measurement equipment. Location, time, etc. could also be confounds affecting these data.

Nikki PMay 24 2010 10:01 PM

This is a very helpful article, thank you. As a lay person, however, I come back to the question repeatedly, what is "long term exposure" to benzene?

Gina Solomon, MD, MPHMay 24 2010 11:16 PM

Billy is absolutely right about the concern that EPA's monitoring might be missing 'spikes' in air pollution. I definitely share that concern. The 'gas station smell' doesn't necessarily mean there's benzene - other solvents have a similar smell, but benzene levels even below the level that can be detected by the nose are still a health hazard.

Long-term exposure, according to the NIOSH standard (which is one of our points of comparison) is ~ 40 hours per week for 20 years. I'm actually concerned about shorter periods of time than that, but that's one definition of "long-term".

DAHallMay 25 2010 09:20 AM

In lieu of dispersants - which as I understand it is to make the oil drops smaller and allow them to stay in the ocean and be...dispersed - why is the oil not being congealed...or hardened in some way...and then collected......and removed from the oceans?

Nikki PMay 31 2010 11:16 AM

THANK YOU, I did not know how to look for a relevant comparable definition of long term.

scottJun 3 2010 03:15 PM

I have a question about your recommended limit for total VOCs. Are these recommended limits ceiling limits or 8-hour time-weighted average exposures.

Chris StrothmanJun 4 2010 08:08 AM

I don't believe a word of this. Where is the analysis of the air offshore? What about the ppm of correxit? I believe the gubnit and BP et al have a serious interest in fudging the data to protect themselves from liability going forward.
TRUST NO ONE!

Chris StrothmanJun 5 2010 12:45 AM

I took a look at the EPA website and saw the map of air quality test sites and ...They are NO WHERE EVEN CLOSE TO WHERE THE OIL IS COMING ASHORE! O.K. so EPA has a bus, but so what; if da bus don't go where the problem IS then...
I am on site, invovled in the cleanup. My company is telling me that the coasta garda is on one of our crane derricks 40 miles offshore taking air samples in the middle of this mess and saying everything is fine and no ppe/resperators are necessary. REALLY!?
I call bullshit! In fact I'm not letting my boat off the dock 'till I have what I need to protect my crew .
It is utter chaos here. My orders have been issued, countermanded,re-issued and then countermanded again.
I have been here since the big boom boom. Originally I was sent to an barrier island off the Mississippi coast with a crane derrick, Navy oil skimmers and oil recovery gear. After ten days on station, the first seven of which the navy didn't even know I was there,eventually I was ordered to leave because some "enviroMENTALIST" claimed the barge spuds were having a "negative effect" on the environment. Now the oil is washing up on the beach and the gear that was in place to protect it is tied to a dock in Gulfport,MS.
I struggle day to day to control my anger!
WTF!!!
I was born and raised in the Florida Keys and as a divemaster and captain I have taken great pleasure in sharing the beauty and abundance that the region has to offer with many,many visitors. And now I fear that all may be lost because the sword of damacles that has been hanging in the Gulf for more than half a century has been dropped. All in the name of expediency and profit. I doubt that any of you fine, well meaning, educated folk have nearly the connection to the ocean as I do. And although I have made my share of money lately from the petrolium industry as a commercial operator (because of,really), I feel an OBLIGATION to be a loyal and carefull steward of the ocean. My thirteen yaer old daughter, Who learned to swim on the reefs off Key Largo asked me the other day if the oil was going to kill everything... what could I say other than "yeah most likely... at least you got to see it before it was destroyed". We both broke down. Tears well in my eyes now as I write this. I am a man who has been to war; eyewitniss and participant in death,destruction an mayhem and am not easily provoked to emotional outbursts, but to see the heartbreak in my little girls face just amplified my own gut sick feeling and brought me to my knees bawling like a child.
I am here, ready and resourcefull, to clean this mess up.
What are you doing?

Cindy BJun 5 2010 03:47 PM

Dr. Solomon:

We live on the AL gulf coast - about 20-25 miles north of the gulf, and about 8 miles east of Mobile Bay. As I'm sure you're aware, the oil started washing up on shore here yesterday. Yesterday around 5pm (when the wind was still) I noticed the smell outside, which in my opinion was pretty strong, but later in the evening it seemed to vanish. I can still smell it slightly this afternoon, and as a mother, I'm naturally very concerned for my 4 year old daughter, husband & myself. I read your article from May 5th on the Health Hazards and tips, but we can't exactly leave the area if we smell oil since we live here (aside from evacuation/relocation). I'm assuming inside is a safe(r) place (in the a/c)? Do you happen to know if there are times of the day when the VOCs would be less due to the weather (i.e. is it 'safer' to be out in the morning versus the evening?)? Also, any idea how long it will take the dangerous VOCs to dissipate? That's probably a big question - I'm wondering if we'll have to endure the odors (and reap the effects of it) for weeks, months, or longer. Naturally, I'm sure the smell, and the location, of the oil will depend on the winds. We've been fortunately in AL that the weather systems held the oil away from our shores for as long as it did, but a SW wind is what brought it to our shores.

Obviously, it is best to minimize our exposure to any VOC's in the air, and again, this a really broad question, but my chief concern of course is cancer - how long would we have to be exposed to VOCs, even at low levels for there to be a chance that cancer may occur? You defined 'long-term exposure' above, so are we talking YEARS or months, etc? As you mentioned, even if the odor is gone, I still have to wonder about benzene in the air that is not detectable by smell.

Even before the oil spill, we were planning on relocation out of the area within then 6-12 months, and to be honest, I'd much prefer to move than to stay. Of course who wants to buy a house where there is a stench of toxic oil outside?! Agh.

Thanks so much for your help, and for the work that you are doing.

Anna JJun 5 2010 10:53 PM

Somebody please answer Cindy B's question from June 5th asap! My husband and I are looking relocate from the Detroit are to the area she is in. We have two small children (1 and 3) and I have all the same questions. If my kids are likely to end up with cancer in 6 or 7 years, we'll take our chances with no jobs and a house not worth what we're paying for it here! Cindy B, I pray for both of us that the truth is not as painful as I'm afraid it's going to be. (By the way, you can get a great deal on a house up here now... no oil, but no jobs either. argh.)

frank brunelleJun 6 2010 07:19 AM

I had an experience with two EPA monitors who measured the air quality after 9-11. They were customers who chartered my sailboat and I was the captain. They told me that the measurements surprisingly showed that the air quality was good. These people were newlyweds and very nice and I am certain they were telling the truth. And so the conclusion I drew is that the monitoring equipment was faulty.

Cindy BJun 6 2010 01:43 PM

Anna J - I completely understand! Today there is no smell in the air at all. I would have to assume the smell would correlate with the direction of the wind and location of the oil. Seems as most of it has moved more off of FL than the AL coastline today. I'm just a concerned individual, so I could very well be wrong, but I would have to assume our air quality is a day to day, minute by minute impact. Dr. Solomon - would that be a fair assessment? Unfortunately, there has been little mention in the local news of the health impact on the citizens, beyond what those working out in the Gulf on the clean-up efforts are enduring. But, we also had yet to experience any oil smells until Friday. I'm just sort of thinking out loud, but I also wonder how much worse the air quality may be versus an urban area where there is alot more smog, etc.

We moved here 2-1/2 years ago with my husband's job, and even before the oil spill, figured this would be our last summer here. We decided to make it our summer of enjoying the area, boating, beaching, etc., but of course all of that has come to a crashing halt. Anna J, best of luck to you and your family with your decision (btw, there are so good deals on houses down here too - maybe not quite as good as the deals in Detroit...).

Gina Solomon, MD, MPHJun 6 2010 02:50 PM

Cindy B and others are raising good questions. I wish there were clear answers to them. Here's what I do know:

1) What you find depends on what you measure. That's likely why the EPA monitors that Frank describes after 9-11 may have "showed the air quality was good". Most scientific instruments only measure for one or a few pollutants, so there's always the worry about missing something. That was a bigger issue after 9-11 because it was such an unprecedented thing. We know more about the oil and what to look for, but there are still unknowns here as well.

2) Chronic health risks, such as cancer risk, don't suddenly occur after a certain period of time. So being exposed for a few hours or days is less likely to harm you than being exposed for weeks or months, which is in turn less worrisome than an exposure which lasts for years. The probabilities of harm increase in a fairly linear fashion (at least, that's what most scientists think). So I'm not terribly worried about intermittent whiffs of oil vapors, but would be if the levels stayed high over long periods of time. Sorry I can't give you a clear cut-off here!

3) The EPA monitoring results so far are fairly reassuring. They're not measuring for everything, but they are looking for a lot of the stuff that I would worry about from this mess. I can't guarantee that everything's totally safe out there, which is why I recommend you use your nose and common sense, but I am not really worried about coastal residents at this point. When you do smell the oil, it's reasonable to get inside and turn on the air conditioner in 'recirculation' mode.

Hang in there!

Anna JJun 6 2010 05:11 PM

Thank you for the help (and links to EPA). I wasn't sure how I was going to figure this out from up here!

CindyJun 6 2010 05:46 PM

Yes, thank you so much Dr. Solomon. I look forward to continuing to read your blog to stay abreast of your findings. Thank you so much for helping out this area. I'm a gulf coast transplant, and if any group of folks can make it through yet another disaster, it's those along these shores. As for the hazards related to the oil, I think we will just continue to use our noses as our primary indicator as well as check the EPA sites, and as suggested, make sure we are inside if we smell oil again. My gut is that this is something we may have to deal with periodically, but hopefully it won't be persistent.

Anna J - Naturally you have to make the best decision for your family and weigh the pros & cons. As a gulf coast resident, I do not think we're in any immediate hazardous situation, but I like to be informed. If you decide you wish to go forward with a relocation here and would like further information (I was in your shoes, sans an oil spill, 3 years ago), I'd be glad to exchange some emails with you: cindybutler2000 at gmail dot com.

BeckyJun 6 2010 11:24 PM

I live on the gulf coast about 5 miles from the mobile bay. I have been smelling the fumes off of the bay off and on for a couple of days. It burns my eyes a little and my throat when it's strong. I have a 3 year old and pets and I am not letting them go out when I smell the fumes. Is the air safe when I don't smell them? How long are they estimating that our air will be polluted with these fumes? I was also wondering if our water is safe? Sorry for so many questions, but I'm just very concerned for the health of my family. Thanks!

Samantha HodsonJun 7 2010 07:29 PM

I used to work at a private lab that tested water and soil samples to insure that gas stations, cities, etc were operating within EPA limits. We would smell the samples before analyzing them (our boss didn't want us to wreck the calibration of the instruments if they were too strong...... how big of a new graduate moron was I, but anyway) and there were plenty of samples that showed up filthy on the gas chromatography machines that looked and smelled fine. I'm looking to move to St Pete because I live in Los Angeles and am suffering from chemical sensitivities, so of course am very concerned about any exposure.... this has been the best thread I've found yet, thank you. Waiting and watching like a hawk for as long as I can before moving while now considering other places to be on the safe side (I did some googling of effects on people on the surrounding towns from Valdez oil spill which does show the effects over a long period of time, and if that's any gauge it doesn't look good -- neurological system seems to be hit the hardest, who needs to get sick and go nutty?).

Gina Solomon, MD, MPHJun 7 2010 11:30 PM

In response to the questions and comments on this thread about the odors of oil, I posted another blog with more details about how the smells relate (or don't relate) to health effects. Check it out: http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/gsolomon/oil_odors_if_you_smell_it_is_i.html

randi kristensenJun 9 2010 10:31 AM

This is the best site I've found so far on Gulf air quality.

Please urge the EPA to make their bpoilspill air quality site more user-friendly. We should not have to click through, download add-ons, etc. to check daily results.

Sarah L.Jun 16 2010 01:27 PM

It is important to remember that when you cite occupational exposure limits you are talking about limits based on an 8 hour per day exposure over as 5 day work week among working adults, not 24 hour exposures seven days a week to the entire population, including the most vulnerable. We do not know what safe levels are with long term chronic exposures like this.

Others have compared community exposures to those experienced in Valdez Alaska, but there are several very important differences. First, the magnitude of the spill is much bigger and growing every day, the spill is a mix of crude oil and gaseous compounds, the temperature in the Gulf is much hotter, which would lead to greater volatilization of VOCs and semi VOCs, the use of dispersants has made the oil more biologically available to marine life , this is much farther out at sea, so effects could go on for some time as it slowing moves to shore.

Linda MJun 17 2010 08:01 AM

I live in Missouri and work outside, its been years since I have had a cold or been sick, just this week I developed runny nose. sore throat, congestion,head ache,. I'v been asking around and a few people have sore throat. My daughter and her friend live in Kenner, LA and they currently have the same symptons as I do. (??)

jtJun 18 2010 12:35 PM

I live on the coast in Ft. Morgan which is across the bay from Dolphin Island. I just noticed that the pine needles are turning brown under the limbs. The EPA and ADEM says the air quality is good........ Not sure what to think about nature saying something else. We had oil wash up on the beach Saturday. This was not tar balls. It was oil. The EPA cannot be telling the truth.

gordon coatesJun 19 2010 12:39 AM

Bp has not said what is in the OIL
Let's rephrase that the natural gas. as this is a gas well.
H2S Hydrogen sulfide. Dispite the posts is POISON!!! it kills instantly at very low levels!!!! Plus it "desolves in water" so most of that is not making the surface. But "sour water KILLS TOO.
now this well!!! 21 INCH that's huge!! no wonder the leak No one said the "presuere at the strike" yET THEY KNEW THEY HAD A HOT ONE!!!
2 MONTHS AGO!!
THEY WERE SEALING IT!!!

and she BLEW!!
enough presure to tos a mile of pipe out of the ground!!!


now GET REAL we have a mess here!!!

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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