Health Effects of Michigan Oil Spill Linger: Tar Sands and Lighter Oils "Double Whammy" Impact


Image: Blind Grasshopper via flickr

Just months after the BP spill last year, an Enbridge pipeline spilled nearly a million gallons of oil into a creek flowing into the Kalamazoo River near Battle Creek, Michigan. It became the largest oil spill in the Midwest, and—surprise—the toxicity resulting from the spill is worse than officials have admitted.
Michigan Messenger tells the story through the eyes of 22-year-old Nicholas Forte, who has spent the last year dealing with health issues ranging from migraines to seizures, and Riki Ott, an environmental toxicologist and oil spill expert who has been tracking the health impacts of oil spills since Exxon Valdez, which affected her home.

Ott listened to about 50 people list off symptoms they've experienced over the last year and, Michigan Messenger reports:

For Ott, it was a litany list of symptoms and voices of frustration she has heard from Alaska to South Korea to the Gulf Coast and now in Calhoun county. And Calhoun, she says, represents exposures to both tar sands and lighter oils, each with its own chemical make ups and attendant toxins.

"You've got the worst of two worlds. You're getting a fully double whammy," she says of the Cold Lake Crude Oil. "Peoples' health problems (from the Enbridge spill) are identical to the Gulf."

Ott says that studies about health impacts conducted by health officials since last summer are based on 40-year old science.

(As for that Cold Lake crude oil she refers to—just a few months after the spill, Enbridge announced a $200 million expansion to the Cold Lake crude pipeline in Canada that will increase its capacity to 570,000 barrels of crude per day.)

Blatant Denial
Yet officials, while still keeping the river closed, say there is no reason to be concerned about health risks. From the Battle Creek Enquirer:

At an Environmental Protection Agency meeting Wednesday, health officials said they expect no long-term health risks to humans from exposure to submerged oil after last year's Enbridge Inc. pipeline spill into Talmadge Creek and the Kalamazoo River.

Despite this expectation, the river will remain closed for the immediate future and current restrictions on river use will stay in place. Paul Makoski, environmental health manager for the Calhoun County Public Health Department.. [he said], "We just want to make sure that we can, without qualifications, say that, 'Yes, you can use this river without a lot of stipulations, qualifications and such.'"

That's not enough for people like Forte and the others who are still suffering the effects of the spill, or for Ott, who noted a peer-reviewed study published in July that showed the same symptoms in each location where an oil spill occurred:

They are the identical to the ones being seen in Calhoun county. She also noted that the studies have begun to identify toxicity to DNA, as well as reproductive health impacts. She says many of the chemicals of concern to occupational and environmental health officials have been shown to impact fetuses in the first trimester.

All this, while the Obama administration pushes ahead with the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, despite all the protests, science, and common sense that advise otherwise.

More on oil spills:
If An Oil Spill Happens In Icy Arctic Waters, We Have No Way To Really Clean It Up (Video)
12 Animals Threatened by the Oil Spill
BP Pipeline Spills Oil Onto Alaskan Tundra
Shell Denies Allegations in Nigeria, Where an Exxon Valdez-sized Spill Occurs Annually

Tags: Michigan | Oil | Pollution | Rivers