Health impact of BP oil spill will be studied

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - Thousands of BP clean-up workers are being asked to participate in a long term study about the possible health effects of the Gulf oil spill.

The National Institute of Environmental Sciences will conduct the 10 year study, which is funded with a $10 million contribution from BP.

Since the clean-up work began, there have been complaints from some workers who say the oil spill caused breathing troubles, rashes and headaches.

Health concerns were among the issues raised by Vietnamese fishermen during last week's one year observance of the oil spill. Binh Nguyen, 67, is a lifelong shrimper who worked for the Vessels of Opportunity. He said unbearable fumes from the oil spill caused serious health issues.

"Congested. Respiratory and coughing just non-stop ever since I started doing it.  And there's times I couldn't even catch my breath because of the shortness of breath," he said, through a translator.

And he's not alone.  The advocacy group Asians for Change has documented multiple cases of VOO workers falling ill.

"I did a lot of outreach and I spoke to a lot of people. And they want to know exactly what is happening to them," said Tuan Dang with the group.

Kaitlin Truong also works with the advocacy organization.

"Some of the fishermen explained that they have trouble breathing, wheezing. A lot of dermatology problems, particularly itching. Also some of the fishermen expressed they had problems with their vision," she explained.

During 30 minute telephone interviews, 55,000 oil spill clean up workers will be surveyed. Of those, 20,000 will be chosen for a more in-depth study that includes a home visit, where researchers will collect blood and urine samples, administer a lung test and collect dust samples from the home.

"If you knew what you were looking for, you wouldn't do a study. They're going to be looking at absolutely everything. And that's why they're going into homes, measuring air. They're going to do everything they can that they know might be a risk factor, so then they'll follow these folks and see what happens," said Dr. Robert Travnicek, with the Mississippi Department of Health.

"This is not like one or two days. This is going to be a long term effect," said Dang.

Although it targets oil spill workers, the study will also include some people not directly involved in the clean-up, so a comparison of health issues can be done.

Participation in the health survey is voluntary. Those participants chosen for the in home visits and check-ups will receive $50 gift cards for their effort.

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