Gulf Oil Spill and Adverse Effects in Clean-Up Workers

 Kesava Reddy, PhD, MHA University Cancer and Diagnostic Centers, Houston,  interview with:
Kesava Reddy, PhD, MHA
University Cancer and Diagnostic Centers, Houston, Tex What are the main findings of the study?

Dr. Reddy: Crude oil spills affect the human health through their exposure to the inherent hazardous chemicals such as para-phenols and volatile benzene. Evidence show that oil spill exposure is associated with multiple adverse health effects and increased cancer risk. In this study, we assessed the adverse health effects of the Gulf oil spill exposure in subjects participating in the clean-up operation along the coast of Louisiana. The findings were compared with those not exposed to the oil spill. We found that platelet counts were notably decreased in the oil spill exposed group. In addition, creatinine and blood urea nitrogen levels were substantially lower in the exposed group, while hemoglobin and hematocrit levels were increased compared to the unexposed subjects. Furthermore, considered indicators of hepatic damage, the serum alkaline phosphatase (ALP), aspartate amino transferase (AST), alanine amino transferase (ALT), levels in the exposed subjects were also elevated. Participants  in the oil spill cleanup activity also reported somatic symptoms, with headache reported most frequently, followed by shortness of breath, skin rash, cough, dizzy spells, fatigue, painful joints, night sweats, and chest pain. Were any of the findings unexpected?

Dr. Reddy: To our knowledge, no previous study has explored the adverse health effects of the oil spill exposure specifically assessing the hematological and hepatic functions in oil spill clean-up workers. For the first time, we reported altered blood profiles and hepatic function in subjects participating in the clean-up operation of the Gulf oil spill. What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?

Dr. Reddy: The results of this study indicate that clean-up workers exposed to the oil spill experienced significantly altered blood profiles, liver enzymes and somatic symptoms.  Thus, exposure to oil spills has potential risks for developing health problems, specifically, hepatic or hematological abnormalities. What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Dr. Reddy: Studies evaluating the changes in hematologic, cardiac, hepatic, renal, and other vital organ functions in oil spill exposed populations are sparse. We have yet to learn and understand the extent of the adverse health effects from these oil spills. The lack of available clinical information on the subject was the motivation for future investigation on the effect of oil spill exposure on vital organs function such as changes in cardiac, renal, and pulmonary functions.


D’Andrea MA, Reddy GK: Health consequences among subjects involved in gulf oil spill clean-up activities. Am J Med 2013 Aug 31 [Epub ahead of print].

Last Updated on October 16, 2013 by Marie Benz MD FAAD