Thousands of Prestige oil spill volunteers suffer health problems

LAST UPDATED: 21 Jun, 2007 @ 12:13
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Doctors question adequacy of protective masks

CHRONIC coughing, difficulties in breathing at night and nasal obstruction are just some of the health problems suffered by volunteers who aided in the clean up operation following the worst environmental disaster in Spain’s history.
More than 64,000 tonnes of oil seeped from the Prestige tanker after it broke up and sank after heavy storms in the Atlantic Ocean in November 2002, leaving the coastline of Galicia covered by a huge oil slick.

Untold damage was caused to marine and birdlife and the local fishing industry was devastated.

Now, a multi-centre study has found almost 7,000 fishermen all developed respiratory damage within two years of helping to clean the region’s beaches and waters.

The results were published in the June 7 edition of the American Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine journal.

Health problems

A team of lung, skin and toxicology experts from hospitals in Madrid, Barcelona and A Coruña began their research into possible effects to the health of volunteers immediately after the clean up operation began in 2002.

Over a two-year-period, 8,000 local fishermen were asked to complete questionnaires into their health and document any problems.

Of those who participated, 6,896 complained of difficulties in breathing and severe coughing.

The research team found these respiratory problems were more prevalent in those volunteers who had spent more time in the clean up operation.

A secondary investigation into possible genetic and hormonal alterations in volunteers is now being carried out.

Concern

The findings of the report have raised concerns the protective masks given to volunteers were not adequate to deal with such a toxic substance.

Luis Díaz, a medical worker and one of the founding members of environmental group Nunca Mais, claims the masks were “useless.”
“The masks did not offer sufficient enough protection. They were useless,” he said.

Señor Díaz claims the majority of the masks were not able to withstand such toxic chemicals.

“The masks given to the majority of the volunteers and workers only offered protection against FFP1 and FFP2 particles, which only protect against low to average toxicity levels in solids and liquid aerosols.”

Señor Diaz claims the masks should have been adequate enough to protect against highly toxic Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs).

“The inhalant risks were high. The masks should have been fitted with a type A filter, enough to protect against the inhalation of VOCs.”

The Nunca Mais member’s claims are backed by a recent A Coruña University study, which concluded the protection offered to volunteer cleaners was “next to nothing.”

“The health problems suffered by the volunteers signifies that more than likely the masks did not possess the adequate characteristics to offer the correct protection,” Blanca Laffon, a member of the research team said.

Medical experts have warned the inhalation of COVs could lead to acute chemical bronchitis, a severe inflammation of the lungs which can be fatal if untreated.

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