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Karmanos' environmental cancer expert outlines health dangers of crude oil exposure

Michael Harbut, M.D., MPH, FCCP, co-director of the National Center for Vermiculite and Asbestos-Related Cancers at Karmanos Cancer Institute, has collaborated with Waterkeeper Alliance in developing a fact sheet that details the impact to human health from exposure to crude oil, specifically pertaining to the recent BP disaster on the Gulf Coast.
 
Dr. Harbut developed the fact sheet with Dr. Kathleen Burns of Sciencecorps, which provides evaluation, communication, technology and other types of assistance in environmental and occupational health.
 
“It is incumbent upon scientists and physicians who know the diseases and suffering that poisons can cause to warn those in danger of exposure, yet political and economic pressures often prevent those in government from providing full and accurate health hazard information, even when lives are at stake,” said Dr. Harbut.
 
Waterkeeper Alliance is a global environment organization based in Irvington, N.Y. The group is composed of almost 200 waterkeepers who patrol rivers, lakes and coastal waterways on six continents. Waterkeepers strive to maintain a community’s right to clean water.
 
Dr. Harbut, along with alliance groups, warn that the oil and its fumes are highly toxic and will have negative health impacts on those exposed to it – especially people with respiratory ailments, the elderly and children living the Gulf Coast area.
 
“We cannot sit idly by and let this happen,” Dr. Harbut said. “In my work with people exposed to crude oil, I have seen cancers and other serious illnesses. Benzene can cause leukemia and many other chemicals have equally serious consequences.”
 
Drs. Harbut and Burns outlined possible symptoms of crude oil exposure, including skin damage and headaches; cancer, nerve damage and liver and kidney damage; serious risks to pregnant women and their fetuses; extreme risks to children; and complications and worsening of those individuals with pre-existing medical conditions.
 
Those hazards can be found at the following link: http://www.sciencecorps.org/crudeoilhazards.htm.
 
“I hope that accurate information on the hazards of crude oil will improve protections for workers and the public, and avoid unnecessary suffering and death,” Dr. Harbut said.
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