Summer Destination to Avoid: Gulf of Mexico
Let me begin with the preface that I am a US citizen living overseas. I am from Austin, Texas and have enjoyed the gulf coast many times as a child when I was growing up. During the first incidents in the media about the Deepwater Horizon and its demise I dismissed it haphazardly, thinking this will be fixed. After further online research, this disaster does not sound like it will be over for quite awhile. What could I do from half way around the world to do my part? Monitor the air quality online!
To begin with an understanding of the area, let's take a closer look at the geography surrounding the gusher, pictured above. The black rounded square represents the Oil Geyser. The 3 blue rounded squares represent the Grand Isle EPA Air Quality Monitoring stations. The stations can be found at the EPA's website [here]. Another important fact to know besides where I am getting my information from is what information I am searching for. I am looking for the hardly-discussed tons of toxic gas leaking from the oil gusher, called Volatile and Semi-Volatile Organic Compounds (knows as VOCs and SVOCs respectively) are, according to WikiPedia:
Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) refers to organic chemical compounds which have significant vapor pressures and which can affect the environment and human health. VOCs are numerous, varied, and ubiquitous. Although VOCs include both man-made and naturally occurring chemical compounds, it is the anthropogenic VOCs that are regulated, especially for indoors where concentrations can be highest. VOCs are typically not acutely toxic but have chronic effects. Because the concentrations are usually low and the symptoms slow to develop, analysis of VOCs and their effects is a demanding area.
According to the EPA website, the VOCs and SVOCs that they are monitoring for include the following:
The second way EPA is checking VOCs is through sampling of benzene, ethylbenzene, toluene, and xylene. These are the VOCs in crude oil that have the greatest potential to cause or contribute to long-term health risks when inhaled. Long-term exposure to benzene and ethylbenzene has the potential to cause cancer. Toluene and xylene can affect the nervous system. Monitoring at this time does not indicate that there is a significant concern for long-term health effects.
EPA is monitoring for the following SVOCs: benzo(a)pyrene, benzo(a)anthracene, benzo(b)fluoranthene, benzo(k) fluoranthene, chrysene, dibenz(a,h)anthracene, inideno(1,2,3-cd)pyrene, naphthalene. These SVOCs have the potential to cause cancer. Monitoring the shoreline at this time does not indicate that there is a significant concern for long-term health effects.
Now that you have an idea of what is on record for being monitored by the EPA, and a slight grasp of their dangers (which are understated above), the next thing to note are the defined safe limits for humans of inhaling these chemicals. Here are a few of the deadliest ones and their EPA standard limits:
Chronic inhalation of certain levels of benzene causes disorders in the blood in humans. Benzene specifically affects bone marrow (the tissues that produce blood cells). Aplastic anemia, excessive bleeding, and damage to the immune system (by changes in blood levels of antibodies and loss of white blood cells) may develop.
ATSDR has established an acute inhalation minimal risk level (MRL) of 0.2 mg/m3 (0.05 parts per million [ppm]) based on immunological effects in mice and an intermediate MRL of 0.01 mg/m3 (0.004 ppm) based on neurological effects in mice. The MRL is an estimate of the daily human exposure to a hazardous substance that is likely to be without appreciable risk of adverse noncancer health effects over a specified duration of exposure.
In a study by the NTP, exposure to ethylbenzene by inhalation resulted in a clearly increased incidence of kidney and testicular tumors in male rats, and a suggestive increase in kidney tumors in female rats, lung tumors in male mice, and liver tumors in female mice.
Paternal exposure (in which the mothers had no occupational exposure to toluene but the fathers did) increased the odds ratio for spontaneous abortions; however, these observations cannot be clearly ascribed to toluene because of the small number of cases evaluated and the large number of confounding variables. An increased incidence of spontaneous abortions was also reported among occupationally exposed women.
Chronic exposure of humans to mixed xylenes, as seen in occupational settings, has resulted primarily in neurological effects such as headache, dizziness, fatigue, tremors, incoordination, anxiety, impaired short-term memory, and inability to concentrate. Labored breathing, impaired pulmonary function, increased heart palpitation, severe chest pain, abnormal EKG, and possible effects on the kidneys have also been reported.
Toluene [EPA]: CNS dysfunction, attention deficits, minor craniofacial and limb anomalies, and developmental delay were observed in the children of pregnant women exposed to toluene or to mixed solvents during solvent abuse. Growth retardation and dysmorphism were reported in infants of another study. However, these studies were confounded by exposure to multiple chemicals.
Children born to toluene abusers have exhibited temporary renal tubular acidosis.
ATSDR has calculated a chronic inhalation minimal risk level (MRL) of 0.4 mg/m3 (0.1 parts per million [ppm]) for mixed xylenes based on neurological effects in occupationally exposed workers. The MRL is an estimate of the daily human exposure to a hazardous substance that is likely to be without appreciable risk of adverse noncancer health effects over a specified duration of exposure.
The Semi-Volatile SVOCs, which are noted to be highly insoluble (do not dissolve in water) are listed on the EPA website [here] with the following noted effects:
Skin exposures to mixtures of carcinogenic PAHs cause skin disorders in humans and animals, and adverse skin effects have been noted in humans and animals following application of solutions containing benzo[a]pyrene.
An epidemiological study of workers exposed by inhalation to benzo[a]pyrene and other particulate matter reported some respiratory effects. The role of benzo[a]pyrene in this association, however, is unclear.
Animal studies have reported effects on the blood and liver from oral exposure to benzo[a]pyrene and a slight hypersensitivity response from dermal exposure to benzo[a]pyrene.
Wow. The chemicals now in the gulf air have terrible consequences if inhaled. I am only going over the data from the EPA monitoring areas near New Orleans, namely: Chalmette, Grand Isle, and Venice. These areas have multiple stations that are numbered. The data given is in the form of PPM, or parts per million. To convert to PPB, or parts per billion, simply move the decimal over 3 places to the right. For example, if a measurement reading it 0.100 PPM, it is 100 PPB. The way to think about this is for every 1 Million particles, there are X particles of the VOC or SVOC.
To get to the point, there are many concerns with the amount of current (in my opinion high) levels of VOCs and SVOCs in the air right now. I hope with the knowledge of knowing the most recent data and then knowing data has also been altered will make everyone demand answers and solutions immediately, along with real numbers. The most recent complete numbers - June 15th - are the following:
Chalmette has 5 stations, and is near New Orleans. Stations 1 and 3 were offline on June 15th.
Chalmette 2: 0.100 PPM
Chalmette 4: 0.100 PPM
Chalmette 5: 0.233 PPM
Grand Isle has 3 stations, and still have not uploaded their data for the 15th. The 15th was a peculiar day for monitoring because the winds shifted and starting blowing from South to North, bringing the oil gases to land.
Venice has 6 stations. On June 15th, Stations 1, 4, and 5 were offline.
Station 2: 0.100 PPM
Station 3: 0.270 PPM
Station 6: 2.678 PPM
Did you see that? 2.678 PPM?! That is FAR outside a "safe" threshold of less than 0.1 PPM. Here's a screenshot of the webpage:
I will not be surprised if that data will change soon, just like the data changed for me on June 14th to June 15th, which you can see for yourself below.
Here is the Venice 2 station report for 6/15/2010 7:59:36 PM:
Now look at the data for the same station, with the report run on 6/16/2010 at 8:00:40 PM:
What happened to the data from the 14th? It was 1.933 PPM! Now it has been altered to 0.744? What is worse, the daily average for the 15th is showing as 0.100??? This can not be correct. Roughly half of the EPA air quality monitoring stations are offline, and the ones that are online have their data changed? What is going on? WHY did this data change? These reports are posted every 24 hours. The surrounding data did NOT change, just the high reading of 1.933 PPM to a lower reading of 0.744. Did the EPA feel that 1.933PPM is too high to release to the public, and 0.744 is a much friendlier number? You decide, or better yet ask the EPA.
These are horrible facts. The numbers were changed, and 0.100 PPM is becoming a standard. The only air quality monitoring website, besides the epa.gov site, are the government sponsored AirNow sites, which measure the air quality by obscure indexes and colors that never seem to change from Green or Yellow. The reason these indexes don't change much is because the data is either constant, or altered.
How big is the issue of air quality in my opinion? Well if you care about your skin, your organs, and your babies not growing tumors, defmormities, or developing cancer -- air quality is VERY important. There is undeniable evidence showing the EPA is failing to do their job monitoring the air and reporting factual data. It is an outrage that most EPA air quality stations I have observed are a constant reading of 0.100 PPM. It is no wonder the government's air quality indexes are friendly numbers.
Please inform your friends about the air issue. The people need to be made aware that their lives and long term livelihood are at stake because of the air quality. What is worse, these chemicals will come back down to the Earth and water, causing even more damage. If the government continues to ignore this deadly gaseous threat, leave as soon as you can, before the government turns this into a last-minute crisis when people start collapsing to then force evacuations.
As a summer destination, the gulf coast (especially near the oil gusher) should be avoided completely.21c4