Study by Leading Scientific Consulting Firm Finds No Evidence of Health Dangers for Gulf Coast Cleanup Workers

Sep 02, 2011, 16:04 ET from ChemRisk LLC

SAN FRANCISCO, Sept. 2, 2011 /PRNewswire/ -- A detailed analysis of air quality samples taken in the Gulf of Mexico in the weeks and months following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill last year finds no evidence that off-shore cleanup workers there faced health risks from exposure to certain volatile organic chemicals, including benzene.

The independent study, undertaken by ChemRisk, a leading scientific consulting firm, found that exposure to airborne benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene (BTEX) fell well below the Permissible Exposure Limits (PELs) established by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

The report comes after months of debate and speculation about possible health risks to cleanup workers. The chemical compounds that were the subject of the study occur naturally in crude oil at very low percentages. Chronic exposures to sufficiently elevated levels of benzene may cause bone marrow damage and lead to an increased risk for developing acute myeloid leukemia.

In conducting the study, ChemRisk analyzed the BTEX measurements from the nearly 5,000 personal air samples taken by BP during the six months following the spill, including vast numbers of samples taken both before and after the well was capped on July 15, 2010. The report found that the measurements for each of the four BTEX chemicals were 32-fold, 510-fold, 360-fold and 77-fold lower, respectively, than the PELs established by OSHA. The report also found no significant variations in the levels of these compounds before versus after the well was capped, leading to the conclusion that the predominant source of the measured BETX did not appear to be from the oil, but rather was likely from other sources such as  the engines of watercraft assisting in the cleanup.

In all, ChemRisk's analysis noted that in 98 percent of measurements taken by BP of breathing zone air samples for offshore workers before the well was capped and in 99 percent of the measurements taken after the well was capped, no detectible levels of benzene were found.  In addition to ChemRisk's analysis of BP's measurements, similar studies conducted by OSHA and the U.S. Department of the Interior have also shown similarly high non-detect rates.

"This report, which examines the largest body of statistical evidence available, finds that the levels of benzene and other BTEX chemicals were well below the thresholds the federal government has established for determining potential health hazards," said Dennis Paustenbach, president of ChemRisk and a co-author of the study. "The findings of this report are also consistent with the results of smaller sample-group studies conducted by the federal government, and should lay to rest any suggestion that off-shore cleanup workers faced any increased risk of illness from benzene while working to control the effects of the spill."

The report is being published today in Environmental Science and Technology, a leading peer-reviewed scientific journal. A link to the report can be found here:

About ChemRisk

ChemRisk LLC is a scientific consulting firm committed to helping clients develop sustainable solutions to a growing number of health and safety concerns. Specifically, the company specializes in pioneering risk assessment methods to characterize and understand complex exposures involving chemicals, pharmaceuticals, or radionuclides in a variety of potentially contaminated media. It leads the way in working with the government, industry and academia to provide objective, science-based solutions to difficult challenges. ChemRisk has more than 60 scientists with backgrounds in toxicology, industrial hygiene, epidemiology, ecotoxicology, environmental sciences, medicine, statistical analysis, and risk assessment. It has six offices serving clients in multiple countries, across dozens of markets and industries.

In addition, many of the more than 1,000 papers presented at scientific conferences and the more than 400 papers published by ChemRisk scientists have helped form the basis for regulatory decision-making and have been relied upon in litigation proceedings.