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Health Effects in Fishermen 2 Years After Assisting With Oil Spill Clean-up FREE

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The summary below is from the full report titled “Health Changes in Fishermen 2 Years After Clean-up of the Prestige Oil Spill.” It is in the 19 October 2010 issue of Annals of Internal Medicine (volume 153, pages 489-498). The authors are G. Rodríguez-Trigo, J.P. Zock, F. Pozo-Rodríguez, F.P. Gómez, G. Monyarch, L. Bouso, M.D. Coll, H. Verea, J.M. Antó, C. Fuster, and J.A. Barberà, for the SEPAR (Sociedad Española de Neumología y Cirugía Torácica)-Prestige Study Group.

Ann Intern Med. 2010;153(8):I-28. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-153-8-201010190-00275
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What is the problem and what is known about it so far?

Oil spills clearly have bad effects on the environment and the animals who live in the ocean or depend on the ocean for food. Less is known about how oil spills affect the health of people. Of particular concern are the possible health effects on people exposed to oil during clean-up procedures. In 2002, the oil tanker Prestige spilled more than 67,000 tons of oil off the coast of northwestern Spain. Many fishermen helped with the clean-up of this accident.

Why did the researchers do this particular study?

To find out whether fishermen who helped to clean up the Prestige oil spill had respiratory (breathing) problems and abnormalities that suggested damage to the lungs.

Who was studied?

501 local fishermen with heavy exposure to the oil spill and 177 fishermen who were not exposed to the oil spill.

How was the study done?

The researchers asked all of the fishermen about breathing problems and did breathing tests and blood tests. Surveys and tests were completed about 2 years after the oil spill.

What did the researchers find?

Compared with nonexposed fishermen, those exposed to oil were at increased risk for breathing problems. However, there were no differences in results on tests of breathing function when the researchers compared exposed and nonexposed fishermen. Among nonsmoking fishermen, levels of some chemicals in exhaled breath that signified possible lung damage were higher in exposed than in nonexposed fishermen. Exposed fishermen were also more likely to have a chromosome abnormality on blood tests. These comparisons excluded smokers, who would be expected to have lung damage and toxic chemicals in their breath because of tobacco.

What were the limitations of the study?

No tests were available for participants before the oil spill, so the researchers cannot be sure that the changes were not already there before the exposure to the oil. Whether the abnormal test results mean that people will develop disease later in life is not known. The findings may not apply to spills involving other types of oil or to different populations of oil spill workers.

What are the implications of the study?

Participation in clean-up activities of a major oil spill was associated with breathing difficulties and some abnormalities on laboratory testing. Further study is necessary to determine whether these changes result in serious health problems later on.





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