While most of the attention so far has been on the millions of gallons of oil that have escaped from the damaged BP rig in the Gulf of Mexico, many environmentalists are now wondering if the real danger to humans from this whole crisis may be the massive amounts of benzene and hydrogen sulfide that are escaping into the air. Hydrogen sulfide is a chemical asphyxiant, similar to carbon monoxide and cyanide gases. It causes "biochemical suffocation" by inhibiting cellular respiration and the uptake of oxygen. Benzene is a highly carcinogenic gas that can cause death if inhaled at high enough concentrations. Not only that, benzene has been shown to cause leukemia in all its forms. High levels of both gases have been detected at testing stations in the Gulf of Mexico. In addition, it is being reported that many fishermen in the Gulf that have been assisting with cleanup efforts have been getting seriously ill from breathing that air. There have been reports of symptoms including headaches, nausea, dizziness, burning eyes, coughing, sore throats, and stuffy sinuses. So as this oil spill continues and even more of these gases are released, are people across the southeast United States about to start breathing air that is filled with highly toxic gases? Are we about to see the American Dream turned into a total nightmare for tens of millions of Americans? What some scientists are now telling us about the release of these gases is truly frightening.
At some testing stations in the Gulf of Mexico, levels of benzene have been detected at over 3000 parts per billion (over 3 parts per million). The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration
has set a maximum workplace exposure limit of 1 part of benzene per million parts of air during an 8 hour workday. So already some testing stations in the Gulf of Mexico have detected levels of benzene that are three times higher than what the OSHA considers to be safe.
Not only that, but WWLTV in New Orleans is reporting that hydrogen sulfide has been detected in the Gulf of Mexico at levels as high as 1,192 parts per billion. The concentration threshold at which humans begin to experience physical symptoms from hydrogen sulfide is about 5 to 10 parts per billion.
Needless to say, this is beyond alarming.