It has now been more than a month since the explosion and sinking of the Deepwater Horizon oil drilling rig, but the effects are just beginning to be felt by people along the Gulf Coast. In addition, to the contamination caused by oil beginning to touch land, there is also a great deal of concern about the potential for air pollution and the release of various petroleum-related chemicals.
People throughout the coastal areas have reported a “gas station” smell for several weeks now. According to the EPA, these smells come from volatile organic compounds (VOC) that are typically found in petroleum products, including benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, xylene and naphthalene.
Individuals may also notice a sour or “rotten egg” smell as well. The odor is typically caused by the release of hydrogen sulfide, a common occurrence when extracting natural gas or oil. This smell may be caused, in part, by the oil spill, but it also occurs naturally in swamps and could be coming from local sewage treatment plants as well.
So far, the risk for chemical exposure injuries or long-term health concerns is low according to the EPA. People may experience headaches or dizziness if exposed to these smells and chemicals for too long a period. However, the EPA has been conducting air quality tests since the rig explosion and claims the chemical levels in the air remain at relatively normal levels for this time of year.
The EPA cautions that those feeling headaches or other effects due to chemical smells should try to remain indoors as much as possible and use an air conditioner instead of leaving windows and doors open. If the symptoms persist, individuals should seek medical attention.
As the oil continues to spread, coastal areas in Louisiana and Mississippi will likely notice these odors getting worse. However, changes in wind direction may cause the smells to dissipate some days and grow worse on others.