As the massive oil slicks from the BP Gulf spill advance upon shores and communities, everyone is worried about the effect on wildlife and the natural environment, but strangely silent about another unavoidable danger. Substantial harm to the children of the Gulf Coast is now unavoidable.
If you can smell oil in the air, as is now reported, that means the chemicals are in the air, and can be inhaled. Parents who are helping to mop up the oil (often, we’ve heard, without even being given gloves) will bring these chemicals into their homes on their skin and clothing. As the oil hits shore, it enters the water supply.
Crude oil is complex mix of hundreds of highly toxic chemicals, including benzene and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which are infamous for their capacity to cause cancer as well as damage to the nervous system. In fact, crude oil components can damage every one of the body’s systems, from the reproductive and respiratory systems to the immune system, kidneys, liver and gastrointestinal system. They disrupt the organs that make up the endocrine system that controls mental and physical growth as well as fertility. They easily penetrate cell walls, to damage cell structures, including DNA.
But the danger is greatest to children because their immature bodies, with incompletely formed immune and detoxification systems, are substantially more vulnerable than adults’. The child in the womb is the most at risk. The report recently released by the President’s Cancer Panel warns about exposures to chemicals during pregnancy. Harm has already occurred: childhood cancer, once a rarity, has leapt 67 percent over the past twenty years as chemical production escalated. We’ll see a spike in similar awful statistics for the Gulf area in years to come.
Why aren’t federal agencies discussing this looming health disaster? They need to alert local authorities of ways to minimize exposure to residents. People who work with crude oil need to be given protective equipment. Special measures must be taken to protect young children and pregnant women.
Our children’s bodies are already dangerously overloaded with toxic substances and far too many, one out of three, are suffering from chronic, sometimes deadly, illnesses as a result.
What will we learn from this disaster? Will the costs in childhood cancer, birth defects, asthma, and dwindling male births be factored into our nation’s future energy plans?
This latest assault from the sea is one more reason that we need to act now to phase out oil from our economy and from our environment.
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For more information: Crude Oil Health Hazards Fact Sheet, by Dr. Michael Harbut (Kamanos Cancer Institute) and Dr. Kathleen Burns (Sciencecorps), www.sciencecorps.org/crudeoilhazards.htm