by Lucinda Marshall
Imagine that you are a woman living on or near the shores of the Gulf of Mexico. Perhaps, you are pregnant or hope to be soon. And, perhaps, your partner is one of the fishermen who has been helping to clean up from the BP oil disaster. He comes home at night coughing and barely able to breath and his skin is irritated from contact with the oil.
Will exposure to the toxic chemicals in the oil and/or in the dispersants damage his sperm or your eggs, perhaps making it difficult to conceive? Could the chemicals damage the embryo you already carry, cause a miscarriage or birth defects? Is your newborn baby or young child at particular risk? Should pregnant women and children living near the Gulf take special precautions? And what if you don't even live near the gulf, could your reproductive health be impacted as well?
While all of these issues are valid concerns, there has been no substantive effort to address them in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon explosion. According to Dr. Riki Ott, a marine biologist who has worked extensively to study and raise awareness about the impact of oil spills on both the environment and on people, the ability to fight against toxics is not fully developed in the womb or in children and, as a result, these populations are particularly vulnerable. "Pregnant woman and children should not be anywhere near this," she said in a phone interview.
Of particular concern are ingredients in the oil and in the dispersants that may be endocrine disruptors which, according to the National Institutes of Health, "are chemicals that may interfere with the body's endocrine system and produce adverse developmental, reproductive, neurological, and immune effects in both humans and wildlife ... Research shows that endocrine disruptors may pose the greatest risk during prenatal and early postnatal development when organ and neural systems are forming ... Young children should not be allowed near the beach where they could come into direct contact with the oil."
Further, "Some of the volatile chemicals in oil have been linked to miscarriage, preterm birth and low birth weight, so it is a good idea for pregnant women to avoid the areas where there are elevated levels of VOCs in the air.