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Dirty Air, Dirty Gulf


  Monitoring by the Environmental Protection Agency shows that the air along parts of the Gulf Coast may be unhealthy for people "who are unusually sensitive to air pollution." The numbers reflected by the real-time air monitoring maps tend to fluctuate, but as of July 22, about half of the 29 sampling sites showed "moderate" levels of particulate matter pollution — down from the day before, when most air sampling sites were "moderate" rather than "good."

  The Louisiana Bucket Brigade, an environmental health and justice organization, says that while the EPA's monitoring program does "represent progress," it "falls short in many ways."

  "The EPA continues to use a limited number of monitoring sites to extrapolate to a broad region," the Bucket Brigade said in an analysis of the agency's air monitoring. "If the EPA does not have the data, then they should simply state that fact."

  The EPA did not respond to a request for comment.

  The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration also released air-sampling results last week, which it said were "consistent" with the EPA's findings. The agency said most of the pollution levels were comparable to a bad day in an urban area such as Los Angeles, but nearer the Deepwater Horizon site, the air "was polluted with organics from the spill" and levels of benzene and toluene — some of the most carcinogenic constituents of crude oil — were "well above maximum concentrations measured recently over the Los Angeles urban area."

  It's also worth mentioning that since ProPublica last relayed statistics on oil spill-related illnesses, both BP and states released new numbers:

  • The Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals reported last week that 290 illnesses were believed to be related to chemical exposure from the oil spill — 216 of which affected workers, while 74 affected the general public.

  • According to the Alabama Department of Public Health, at least 105 people were treated for health complaints believed to be related to the oil spill, the Mobile Press-Register reported on July 21. The Alabama numbers reflect cases reported since May 14, however — almost a month into the spill. Alabama doesn't break these statistics down into workers versus the general public.

  • BP's latest count, which spans from April 22 to July 12, recorded 647 illnesses and 955 injuries from Gulf cleanup workers.

  • The illness and injury numbers for workers on the spill may see a decline if the surface cleanup efforts continue to wind down. The company last week announced that it has reduced the number of skimmers working in the Gulf by more than a quarter, now that the cap on the well is holding in most of the oil. (The decision to cut down on the number of boats skimming oil comes just as OSHA rolls out its new and improved safety training, a few weeks later than promised.) — Marian Wang, ProPublica

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