In addition to the millions of barrels of oil that poured into the Gulf of Mexico during last year’s BP oil disaster, the spill is responsible for poisoning the area with benzene, hydrogen sulfide, and radioactive hydrocarbon effluents. Benzene is a volatile organic compound (VOC) that is found in raw crude oil. It is also a known human carcinogen that has been linked to leukemia, other blood cancers, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL), and other blood and immune system disorders.
There is no known safe level of benzene exposure, but the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has set the short-term exposure limit to 5ppm for 15 minutes. Breathing in high levels of benzene for a short time can result in death. Even low level exposure over long periods of time and eating and drinking foods contaminated with benzene, like seafood from the scene of a massive oil spill, can cause chronic health effects that may lead to cancer, permanent neurological damage, and death. A report entitled “Gulf Oil Spill Health Hazards” indicates that long-term exposure to the chemicals released by the BP disaster should be avoided at all costs.
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