There is an urgent need to research the long-term effects of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Maritime lawyers and safety advocates fear that now that the well has stopped gushing, attention will be diverted away from this topic, and health concerns from the oil spill brushed under the carpet. It’s important to keep focus on the safety issue. Even though the well has been capped, the damage has already been done, and the toxic effects will continue to be seen over years, and possibly generations.
We know much about the short-term health effects of a toxic oil spill, like the one that occurred when the Deepwater Horizon exploded in the Gulf of Mexico. Residents along the Gulf Coast have reported nausea, vomiting, throat irritation, and red eyes. However, there’s more than just the oil-contaminated water for these people to worry about. As part of its efforts to disperse the oil and send it to the bottom of the ocean, BP used chemical dispersants, including one called Corexit 9500. Environment groups have estimated that this chemical dispersant is actually up to four times more deadly than the oil itself.
So, we could have a situation where people are not just sick from the oil spill, but also from the chemicals that were used to disperse the oil. These Gulf Coast residents were heavily exposed to the dispersant, because the chemicals were sprayed from airplanes in the middle of the night.
Environmentalists have estimated that the Gulf Mexico oil spell was the equivalent of a supertanker discharging all its contents into the ocean every week. It’s hard to tell right now what the long-term effects of the oil spill will be. There’s never been another spill like this, and the extent of the long-term devastation is still unknown.
However one thing is clear – there will be side effects going forward, and these could probably last for years. More worryingly, it’s not just the people who live in these Gulf Coast towns who may be impacted by these effects, but also people over the years who visit these beaches or eat seafood from the Gulf of Mexico.
Update 9/18: To see how the BP oil spill is still affecting the Gulf in 2018, visit: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/jun/28/bp-deepwater-horizon-oil-spill-report