New Study on Health Impact From Exposure to Submerged Oil Raises More Questions Than Conclusions

Report says nothing about the risks to wildlife and the environment

08-18-2011 // Beth Wallace
Oil in Kalamazoo River

Yesterday, the Environmental Protection Agency, Region 5, held a community meeting in Marshall, MI to discus clean-up efforts from the Enbridge oil spill in the Michigan-Oil-Spill.  At that meeting, agency officials within the Unified Command released their findings from a report Enbridge pipeline release of heavy crude oil: Evaluation of people’s risks from contact with the submerged oil located in the sediment of the Kalamazoo River (pdf).

Agencies involved in the release of that report concluded that human health is not at risk when coming in contact with submerged oil remaining in the environment. However, the National Wildlife Federation, upon further review of that report, is questioning these conclusions.

The report states that 8 chemicals* found in the submerged tar sands oil samples were not included in the assessment because necessary information for the risk calculations was not available.

“The agency couldn’t make risk assessments for 8 chemicals* in the submerged oil, including two with high concentrations in the samples, but then concluded there was no risk of exposure to the submerged oil…that makes no sense.” Says Doug Inkley Senior Scientist at the National Wildlife Federation “The study is definitely not an ‘all clear’ signal because it admittedly says nothing about the risks to wildlife and the environment, of breathing vapors from the residual oil, of eating of fish from the river, or of contact with surface water.”  

“By their own admission, multiple chemicals have not been fully tested. No doctor would look at a sick patient, skip doing a full diagnosis, and declare him fit as a fiddle. Officials are prematurely drawing conclusions about the risks of tar sands oil to human health.” said Beth Wallace with the Great Lakes Regional Center of the National Wildlife Federation, “residents at the meeting, including myself, were extremely skeptical and frustrated when hearing these conclusions from officials with MDCH.  A complete study on the make-up of tar sands oil needs to be conducted before we can begin to truly understand the impacts to humans, wildlife and our environment.”

The report was released for public comment today and will be open for review until October 18th, 2011.

*Typo correction for the report, Page 10 states: “Nine of the chemicals in Table 1 (2-methylnaphthalene, p-isopropyl toluene, cyclohexane, 1,2,3-trimethylbenzene, m & p-xylene, o-xylene, diesel range organics [C10-C20], gasoline range organics [C6-C10], and oil range organics [C20-C34]) were not included in the risk calculations. Several of the chemicals did not have toxicity values (necessary information for the risk calculations) available.” The report should read “Eight of the chemicals…” as noted by Jennifer Gray, with the Division of Environmental Health at the Michigan Department of Community Health.

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