NEW ORLEANS -- Doctors along the Gulf Coast are looking well beyond the cleanup of beaches and marshes and into the potential long-term health concerns of the oil spill.
And already there is evidence that people have chemicals in their blood systems from the cleanup.
The medical experts want answers to the tough questions many are asking about the future when it comes to the massive oil spill.
'We are concerned. One, there's been exposures of workers in some coastal communities. There are some questions about food. The best way to address this in our opinion is replace politics with science,' said Dr. Scott Lillibridge, a family medicine doctor and professor in the School of Rural Public Health at Texas A&M. Doctors and
scientists from nine universities from across the Gulf Coast now have a consortium to collect health data now and possibly for decades to come. LSU Health Sciences Center and Texas A&M are heading it up.
'We know the communities we live in, the communities we eat the food in. We're not going to disappear after it's over,' said Dr. Ed Trapido of the LSU School of Public Health, who is the coordinator of all the Gulf oil spill research for LSU Health Sciences Center.
Studies have begun. There are complaints from workers: headaches, dizziness, asthma made worse, an increase in alcohol and drugs to cope with stress. And doctors know components of crude oil are a serious health risk.
'In occupational settings when people are exposed to these chemicals, they do develop cancer. We know that people have been exposed to these chemicals,' Trapido said.
Another concern is the 2-butoxyethanol in dispersants.
'It has not been officially classified as a human carcinogen; however, it is an animal carcinogen and can cause cancers in animals,' said Dr. Jim Diaz, a professor of public health and preventive medicine and program head of environmental and occupational health sciences at LSUHSC.
In fact, the doctors in the consortium say they already have evidence that 21 percent of the people who worked with the dispersants now have it in their blood.
'I'm not surprised that they already have it in their blood system because it's a very volatile compound that can be breathed in very quickly and it can get distributed by the circulatory system very quickly and get transmitted to the liver and from there to the kidneys,' Diaz said.
LSU is already testing tar and oil and dispersant samples in human cells. But other questions remain. What do they do to our genes, the food chain, the workers who cleaned up the land and the wildlife? What about unborn babies and the health of future pregnancies of women exposed? What about all the chemicals now being thrown in the landfills with the used boom?
Already they are gathering names of people who have been exposed firsthand.
'I live three blocks away from the Mississippi River. I'm still eating the food. I'm not moving. As far as I'm concerned, it's a safe environment, but as a scientist, I have to be a little skeptical and raise the issue that nobody knows the long term effects,' Trapido said.
There have been no studies that were done four years past an oil spill.