Blood Tests Show Elevated Level of Toxic Hydrocarbons in Gulf Residents

Washington’s Blog


A number of different chemists are finding elevated levels of toxic hydrocarbons in the bloodstream of Gulf coast residents.

What is most disturbing about these results is that people who simply live near the water are showing higher than normal levels of toxic chemicals. These are not fishermen, shrimpers, oil workers or others who work on the water.

Jerry Cope recently wrote about his test results in a must-read essay at Huffington Post.

Several Gulf coast residents described their test results in the following video:

And the Intel Hub has uploaded some of the other test reports.

The local ABC news affiliate in Pensacola, Florida - ABC3 Wear - covered the story:

Several residents of Orange Beach say the oil spill has been making them sick...and they have the test results to prove it.

Gerry Cope, Margaret Carrouth and Robin Young were all feeling the same symptoms of headaches, watery eyes, and breathing problems...

All three had blood samples taken at the beginning of August...

Tests revealed each had elevated levels of the Hydrocarbons Ethyl Benzene and Xylene.

Bob Naman, a chemist out of Mobile, analyzed the results.

"He shows three times the amount you typically find in someone's blood."

"These people are from different backgrounds, and from different walks of life, all showing same similar organic compounds in blood, says to me its very likely in the air."

Background levels of these chemicals were taken from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control's Fourth National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals.

It is well known that oil fires can increase the levels of ethyl benzene and xylene in people's bloodstream. For example, in studying Gulf War illness, the National Defense Research Institute found that exposure to the Kuwaiti oil fires set by Saddam Hussein increased ethyl benzene levels in firefighters more than 10 times - from .052 to .53 micrograms per liter - and more than doubled xylene levels:


Table 3.6
VOC Concentrations in Blood in U.S. Personnel


VOC Kuwait City Personnel
(Group I)
(Group II)
U.S. Reference
Benzene 0.035 0.18 0.066
Ethyl-benzene 0.075 0.53 0.052
m,p-Xylene 0.14 0.41 0.18
o-Xylene 0.096 0.26 0.10
Toluene 0.24 1.5 0.30

A geochemist from East Carolina University - who was awarded a grant from the National Science Foundation - says that evaporation and storms can carry toxic hydrocarbons from the Gulf oil and dispersants inland:

YouTube Video

There have been previous reports of  spill-related toxins becoming airborne. For example, as National Public Radio notes, Orange Beach city geologist Mark White and others found oil which was apparently airborne.

And New Orleans news channel WDSU noted in July:

Smith's team has also conducted air monitoring tests. What they found [were] high levels of chemicals like benzene and hexane coming from dispersants.

And even BP admitted back in June elevated levels of ethyl benzene and xylene offshore. See this and this.

In addition, as I noted last week, scientists have found that applying Corexit to Gulf crude oil releases 35 times more toxic chemicals into the water column than would be released with crude alone.

Is it possible that the massive application of Corexit dispersant is creating a situation analogous to ongoing oil fires: ongoing release of large quantities of toxic components of crude oil?

It is important not to be alarmist about the dangers of the oil/dispersant mixture to human health, but it is equally important to fully study the issue, and not to let politics get in the way of science.