Chemicals from Deepwater Horizon Spill Linked with Asthma Symptoms, NIH Finds

August 22, 2022
Exposure to oil spill chemicals is associated with asthma and asthma symptoms among cleanup workers, according to researchers involved in an ongoing study led by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), which is part of the National Institutes of Health. An article published recently in the journal Environment International finds that workers involved in cleaning up the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill were 60 percent more likely to have been diagnosed with asthma or have experienced asthma symptoms between one and three years after the spill, compared to people who completed cleanup work safety training but did not participate in the operation. None of the cleanup workers or comparison group members analyzed in the study had been diagnosed with asthma before the spill.
Researchers first estimated cleanup workers’ exposures to chemicals found in oil spills. Then they analyzed the relationship between the types of jobs held by the workers—and their resulting exposure to total hydrocarbons—and whether they had received doctors’ diagnoses for asthma or self-reported asthma symptoms. The study also examined health outcomes associated with exposures to a subgroup of crude oil chemicals collectively known as BTEX-H, which are also classified as air pollutants under the Clean Air Act.
Workers’ relative risk for asthma symptoms was found to increase with their exposures to both individual BTEX-H chemicals and BTEX-H chemical mixtures. Researchers noted that exposures to hydrocarbons and BTEX-H chemicals varied based on workers’ specific cleanup jobs and how long they worked. Jobs included administrative support and water sampling, mopping up crude oil from sea or shoreline vessels, and decontaminating equipment and wildlife, with workers involved in operating, maintaining, or refueling heavy cleanup equipment having the highest incidence of asthma.
The authors of the Environment International article are researchers with the Gulf Long-term Follow-up Study, also known as the GuLF STUDY. Under the leadership of NIEHS, the GuLF STUDY is the largest study aiming to assess the health of workers who responded to the Deepwater Horizon spill.
According to Dale Sandler, PhD, chief of NIEHS’ Epidemiology Branch and lead researcher for the GuLF STUDY, this is the first time that specific oil spill chemicals have been linked to respiratory disease. “If you were an oil spill cleanup worker in the gulf experiencing wheezing or other asthma-like symptoms,” said Sandler, “it would be good to let your healthcare provider know you worked on the oil spill.”
More information on the article and wider GuLF STUDY can be found in NIH’s Aug. 17 news release.
EPA Reaches $1.7 Million Settlement over Alleged Toxics Release Inventory Reporting Violations
The EPA recently announced a $1.7 million settlement with The Andersons Marathon Holdings (Andersons Marathon), LLC to resolve alleged Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) reporting violations of the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) at four facilities in Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, and Ohio. EPA’s Region 7 and Region 5 offices coordinated their investigations of Andersons Marathon’s failure to file, failure to file timely, and failure to file accurate annual EPCRA TRI Forms for several chemicals from its fermentation vapor stream.
“EPA is committed to protecting people from pollution and taking action to ensure facilities are reporting releases in an accurate and timely fashion as required by law,” said Acting Assistant Administrator Larry Starfield, for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “This settlement ensures the communities surrounding the four facilities have the best available information that they deserve and empowers them to act at a local level when necessary.”
The company has agreed to pay a total penalty of $1,731,256 between two Consent Agreements and Final Orders (CAFO), the largest EPCRA TRI penalty ever obtained by the Agency.
Andersons Marathon manufactures ethanol at four facilities located in:
  • Logansport, Indiana
  • Albion, Michigan
  • Greenville, Ohio
  • Denison, Iowa
Region 5’s action resolves 99 violations and assess a $1,522,015 civil penalty and Region 7’s action resolves 32 violations and assess a $209,241 civil penalty. Andersons Marathon has since filed its 2015 - 2020 EPCRA Toxic Chemical Release Forms and corrected its 2015 – 2020 data quality errors for chemicals including benzene, ethylbenzene and toluene and the chemicals discussed below. EPA and Andersons Marathon also agreed as to how Andersons Marathon will report its future manufacture, process, or other use of fermentation chemicals (acetaldehyde, methanol, acrolein, formaldehyde and formic acid). As a result of the action and for future reporting, Andersons Marathon has adjusted measurements and releases of n-hexane and ammonia at its facilities.
EPCRA increases the public's knowledge and access to information about chemicals at individual facilities, their uses, and releases into the environment. States and communities, working with facilities, can use the information to improve chemical safety and protect public health and the environment. All four facilities are located in vulnerable or overburdened communities and the settlement advances the Biden Administration’s commitment to deliver environmental justice. 
To read the two Consent Agreements and Final Orders, visit:
Alabama Company Charged in Worker Death Case
The Justice Department and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Alabama recently announced criminal charges in a case involving willful violations of Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards that led to a worker’s death. The charges involve an Aug. 16, 2017, incident at the Helena, Alabama, plant owned by ABC Polymer Industries LLC, in which a worker was pulled into a cluster of unguarded moving rollers and killed.
ABC Polymer manufactures flat plastic sheets using plastic extrusion assembly lines that pull the plastic sheeting through multiple clusters of large spinning rollers. As alleged in the charging document, the machine at issue was manufactured with a metal barrier that would protect the operator from the pinch points of the moving rollers, as well as an “interlock” mechanism that would stop the rollers’ spinning if the guard were lifted out of the way. OSHA standards require moving machinery, such as the one at issue here, to be guarded while the machine is energized.
However, ABC Polymer had a standard practice of operating that machine with the guard in the “up” or unprotected position when the rollers were moving. The automatic mechanism that would have stopped the line and rollers’ spinning when the guard was in the up position was not used, allowing operators to reach between or near the roller drums to cut tangles in the plastic sheet without stopping the line.
Despite knowing of numerous prior worker injuries from using that machine without the safety guard engaged, ABC Polymer assigned the victim to cut tangles out of plastic sheeting from among the machine’s unguarded spinning rollers with a hand tool. The worker became entangled in the spinning rollers and was killed.
Federal law makes it a class B misdemeanor to willfully fail to follow an OSHA safety standard where the failure causes the death of an employee. The class B misdemeanor is the only federal criminal charge covering such workplace safety violations.
The defendant is presumed innocent until convicted. If convicted, the defendant faces a fine of up to $500,000, or twice the financial gain to the defendant or twice the financial loss to another, whichever is greater, and is also liable for restitution to the victim. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the relevant statutory factors.
EPA Fines Heartland Development LP for Alleged Clean Water Act Violations 
Residential developer Heartland Development LP will pay a $51,690 civil penalty to resolve alleged violations of the Clean Water Act (CWA). According to the EPA, the company failed to adequately control stormwater runoff from the Covington Creek and Covington Court construction developments in Olathe, Kansas.
“Runoff from construction sites contains pollutants that harm our nation’s waters and impair downstream property owners’ use and enjoyment of those waters,” said EPA Region 7 Enforcement and Compliance Assurance Division Director David Cozad. “It’s also unfair to other construction companies that follow the rules. These enforcement actions demonstrate the Agency’s commitment to protecting streams and other waterways and ensuring a level playing field for businesses.”
In the settlement documents, EPA alleges that Heartland Development LP failed to construct and/or maintain required stormwater controls; failed to take actions when stormwater control deficiencies were identified; and failed to conduct required inspections of the construction sites. EPA also said that such violations threaten Little Cedar Creek.
The settlement is currently available for public notice and comment and can be found on EPA’s website.
Under the CWA, companies that propose to disturb an acre or more of land in proximity to protected water bodies are required to obtain stormwater construction permits and to follow the requirements outlined in those permits to reduce pollution runoff. Failure to obtain a permit or to follow the requirements of a permit may violate federal law.
Unsafe Chemical Practices Leads to 2nd-Degree Burns
A federal workplace safety investigation into how a 25-year-old manufacturing worker suffered serious arm burns in February that required hospitalization, determined his Ohio employer failed to follow required federal safety standards that might have prevented the incident.
OSHA opened an inspection of International Cushioning Co. in Fremont on Feb. 10, 2022, after learning of the injury and receiving a referral by the local fire department alleging fire hazards due to poor housekeeping of combustibles and flammables.
OSHA learned the worker was removing polyethylene foam from an extruding machine when a static discharge ignited isobutane, a colorless, flammable gas released in the production process. The heated foam melted on the employee's arm, causing second-degree burns.
Inspectors also found industrial fans positioned on the foam line were not properly rated for use in hazardous atmospheres, and that the employer failed to provide workers with spark-resistant hand tools – violations that exposed workers to potential ignition hazards. The company also failed to provide adequate protective equipment for the workers' hands, arms and feet.
"A young worker might have been spared these serious injuries if International Cushioning Company met specific federal standards for the safe operation of foam manufacturing equipment," said OSHA Area Director Todd Jensen in Toledo. "During our initial inspection in Fremont, inspectors found additional issues and identified more than two dozen violations and related hazards the company must address before other employees are harmed."
"This company must address what appears to be a workplace culture where employee safety is not emphasized and workers are exposed to serious injuries," Jensen added. "We will use all enforcement powers at our disposal to protect workers."
The February inspection also led OSHA to cite the company for failing to report an injury within 24 hours, as required; allowing operation of machinery, including grinders, pulleys and belts, without required safety guards; lacking machine safety procedures, commonly known as lockout/tagout; failing to train employees as required; not ensuring use of electrical safe work practices; and permitting unsafe operation of powered industrial vehicles.
A March 2 health inspection found unsanitary conditions and process safety management violations. Inspectors also learned the company did not have a hearing conservation program or an emergency action plan.
Based in Marlboro, New Jersey, International Cushioning Co. has been in the manufacturing industry for more than 50 years, providing foam and paper packaging products at facilities in Indiana, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio and Texas. The company opened the Fremont facility in 2020.
Initiative Launched in Mid-Atlantic States to Reduce Worker Injuries, Illnesses in Warehousing, Storage, Distribution Yards
OSHA recently launched a regional initiative in three Mid-Atlantic states and the District of Columbia in an effort to protect workers and reduce injuries and illnesses in the warehousing, storage and distribution yards' industries.
OSHA's Regional Emphasis Program for Warehousing Operation focuses on industry employers in Pennsylvania, Delaware, the District of Columbia and West Virginia.
"With the rapid growth of e-commerce, the warehousing industry has significantly expanded. This emphasis program will address hazardous conditions these workers continuously face every day," explained OSHA Regional Administrator Michael Rivera in Philadelphia. "Through coordinated outreach, education efforts and on-site inspections, OSHA is determined to identify hazardous workplace conditions and hold industry employers accountable for providing a safe and healthful workplace."
The initiative follows a Bureau of Labor Statistics' 2020 finding that the warehousing and storage industry's injury rate of 4.8 per 100 workers is higher than the U.S. average of 2.7 per 100 rate among all private industries. In addition, from 2017 to 2020, BLS reported 93 work-related fatalities nationally in the industry.
OSHA's emphasis program began on Aug. 3, 2022, with a three-month period of outreach aimed at education and prevention. During this time, agency representatives will share safety and health information with employers, trade associations, workers and other stakeholders. OSHA encourages employers to review operations at their warehousing, storage and distribution facilities before the program’s second phase, focused on ensuring compliance with federal safety and health standards.
In fall 2022, OSHA will begin targeted enforcement, incorporating on-site inspections to identify safety and health hazards, including those typically found in the warehousing industry. These include those related to the use of powered industrial trucks, such as forklifts, lockout/tagout procedures, machine guarding, means of egress, and fire suppression. Inspections will not include marine terminals or shipyards.
The emphasis program ends Aug. 3, 2027, unless extended. The program supplements the work of OSHA's area offices as they continue to open inspections in response to complaints, hospitalizations and fatalities.
Testing Reveals High Levels of PFAS in Tennessee Fertilizer
A new report released recently by Sierra Club and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility found troubling concentrations of toxic per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances or “PFAS” in a home fertilizer sold to Nashville residents. Music City Gold is marketed as an “all natural” and “organically rich” fertilizer. But advocates say the product should not be sold to home gardeners due to the discovery that these products also contain high concentrations of PFAS and other persistent chemicals.
While the federal government and state of Tennessee are scrambling to identify and control industries responsible for PFAS pollution, practices like the reuse of sewage waste or “biosolids” effectively recycle pollution from homes and industries back into food crops on farms and home gardens. The samples of Music City Gold had similar concentrations to a broader study of home fertilizers conducted by Sierra Club and the Ecology Center in 2021. All three samples analyzed had concentrations of one key chemical, PFOS, that exceed a screening level set by the state of Maine for sludge use. Maine has halted all sales and land application of sewage waste as a way to contain the PFAS pollution crisis.
Report authors issued the following statements:
“We can no longer turn a blind eye to the crisis posed by the reckless use of PFAS in products and industry,” said Scott Banbury, director of the Tennessee Sierra Club. “The good news is that states have the tools to solve the problem. They can ban harmful uses and limit the discharge of PFAS into state waterways and the wastewater system.
“The City of Nashville should take steps immediately to stop the use of contaminated sewage sludge from being sold as a home fertilizer, said Barry Sulkin of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The marketing of these products is at best, misleading to a home gardener, and at worst could expose the public to concerning amounts of PFAS and other contaminants in home-grown produce. Halting the use of sludge in gardens and local farms would help contain the problem.”
New Respirator User Notices Issued by Advoque Safeguard, 3M
Following a request from Advoque Safeguard, NIOSH has rescinded its approval of the company’s N95 particulate filtering facepiece respirator with model number ASG100. The voluntary rescission affects respirators marked with the approval number TC-84A-9284. As of Aug. 5, respirators bearing this number are no longer NIOSH approved and may no longer be manufactured, assembled, sold, or distributed as NIOSH-approved products, according to a notice (PDF) on the company’s website. The notice cites the results of third-party testing on one of Advoque Safeguard’s lots that “recorded some of the units with inconsistent filtration performance to the 95% filtration standard” as the reasoning for its action.
A separate notice issued by 3M has to do with certain Versaflo TR-6590N Multi-Gas/HE Cartridges used with NIOSH-approved 3M TR-600 and TR-800 powered air-purifying respirators (PAPRs). The notice states that recent testing identified the potential for some Versaflo TR-6590N cartridges not to meet the requirements of 42 CFR Part 84.179, Silica Dust Loading Test - PAPR Series HE Filtration, which requires PAPR systems to run for a period of four hours in a test chamber while exposed to silica dust at levels of 50 to 60 mg/m3 of air.
“The results from recent tests showed lower TR-6590N cartridge particulate loading performance than in the past,” 3M’s notice (PDF) explains. “This means users of the TR-6590N cartridge may potentially see a reduced particulate filter service life when using an affected cartridge in a high particulate loading environment.”
According to 3M, this does not affect the TR-6590N’s filtration performance and “does not put users at risk for exposure.” The company is working to correct the issue.
All NIOSH-approved respirators appear on the agency’s certified equipment list. The website of NIOSH’s National Personal Protective Technology Equipment Laboratory provides a list of respirator user notices issued by manufacturers. Further information about the recent notices can be found in the sections for 3M and Advoque Safeguard on the NPPTL page.
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