Guest Post: Blood Tests Show Elevated Level of Toxic Hydrocarbons in Gulf Residents

Washington’s Blog

(Videos at

A number of different chemists are finding elevated levels of toxic hydrocarbons in the bloodstream of Gulf coast residents.

What is most disturbing about these results is that people who simply live near the water are showing higher than normal levels of toxic chemicals. These are not fishermen, shrimpers, oil workers or others who work on the water.

Jerry Cope recently wrote about his test results in a must-read essay at Huffington Post.

Several Gulf coast residents described their test results in the following video:

And the Intel Hub has uploaded some of the other test reports.

The local ABC news affiliate in Pensacola, Florida – ABC3 Wear – covered the story:

Several residents of Orange Beach say the oil spill has been making them sick…and they have the test results to prove it.

Gerry Cope, Margaret Carrouth and Robin Young were all feeling the same symptoms of headaches, watery eyes, and breathing problems…

All three had blood samples taken at the beginning of August…

Tests revealed each had elevated levels of the Hydrocarbons Ethyl Benzene and Xylene.

Bob Naman, a chemist out of Mobile, analyzed the results.

“He shows three times the amount you typically find in someone’s blood.”

“These people are from different backgrounds, and from different walks of life, all showing same similar organic compounds in blood, says to me its very likely in the air.”

Background levels of these chemicals were taken from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control’s Fourth National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals.

It is well known that oil fires can increase the levels of ethyl benzene and xylene in people’s bloodstream. For example, in studying Gulf War illness, the National Defense Research Institute
found that exposure to the Kuwaiti oil fires set by Saddam Hussein increased ethyl benzene levels in firefighters more than 10 times – from .052 to .53 micrograms per liter – and more than doubled xylene levels:

Table 3.6
VOC Concentrations in Blood in U.S. Personnel

VOC Kuwait City Personnel
(Group I)
(Group II)
U.S. Reference
Benzene 0.035 0.18 0.066
Ethyl-benzene 0.075 0.53 0.052
m,p-Xylene 0.14 0.41 0.18
o-Xylene 0.096 0.26 0.10
Toluene 0.24 1.5 0.30

A geochemist from East Carolina University – who was awarded a grant from the National Science Foundation – says that evaporation and storms can carry toxic hydrocarbons from the Gulf oil and dispersants inland:

YouTube Video

There have been previous reports of  spill-related toxins becoming airborne. For example, as National Public Radio notes, Orange Beach city geologist Mark White and others found oil which was apparently airborne.

And New Orleans news channel WDSU noted in July:

Smith’s team has also conducted air monitoring tests. What they found [were] high levels of chemicals like benzene and hexane coming from dispersants.

And even BP admitted back in June elevated levels of ethyl benzene and xylene offshore. See this and this.

In addition, as I noted last week, scientists have found that applying Corexit to Gulf crude oil releases 35 times more toxic chemicals into the water column than would be released with crude alone.

Is it possible that the massive application of Corexit dispersant is creating a situation analogous to ongoing oil fires: ongoing release of large quantities of toxic components of crude oil?

It is important not to be alarmist about the dangers of the oil/dispersant mixture to human health, but it is equally important to fully study the issue, and not to let politics get in the way of science.

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About George Washington

George Washington is the head writer at Washington’s Blog. A busy professional and former adjunct professor, George’s insatiable curiousity causes him to write on a wide variety of topics, including economics, finance, the environment and politics. For further details, ask Keith Alexander…


  1. pmorrisonfl

    I think we should require all US-based BP executives and executive representation from both MMS and EPA to move themselves and their families to the Gulf Coast. that should help sort out what the appropriate measure are.

    (I stole this idea from Henry Ford).

  2. ITDog09

    In an emergency meeting today, the EPA outlawed all blood tests for hydrocarbons. No one at EPA would discuss that mtter.

    (This is just a joke)

  3. Wisdom Seeker

    Not to be skeptical, but the numerical data presented above are meaningless without details on standard deviation (of test samples) and “normal range” information.

    When you get blood reports from a physician they tend to include that sort of information so you can make an informed decision about whether a particular variance (from some “standard” or “normal” value) is worth worrying about.

    Also, what are the points at which these particular chemicals begin to have toxic side effects (other than polluting your blood)? Those should be well known for many of the common hydrocarbons.

    Taking the reverse side of this class of argument about toxic pollutants: it’s an enlightening exercise to spend a few minutes studying the toxicity to humans of elevated CO2 levels in the air. If CO2 levels continue to rise at the rate measured over the last ~50 years, you can expect your children and grandchildren may need to cope with that. Plants may benefit, but if humans have trouble one can expect many other animals to also have trouble… “It’s not just about global warming.”

  4. rd

    It is always necessary to take contaminant testing with a grain of salt. Hexane, in particular, raises a red flag here. Hexane is a common laboratory solvent, and so its reported presence could actually be an indication of poor laboratory procedures instead of a Gulf contaminant.

    Good field sampling and laboratory procedures requires numerous QA/QC checks including duplicates, trip blanks, laboratory blanks, rinse blanks etc. It is not unusual for some research or other institutions to skip some of the QA/QC steps as they are expensive and time-consuming.

    Ethylbenzene and xylene are part of the BTEX chemicals that are the primary components of gasoline, which is quite ubiquitous, so the people do not need to be in an industrial setting to be exposed. Filling the lawnmower tank in a garage can provide exposure.

    This is not meant to downplay the potential impacts, but simply to point out that the science reporting in newspapers is generally of lower quality than the financial reporting, so the facts always need to be double and triple-checked.

      1. skippy

        Thanks for the link.

        Life is a study in toxicology, abet we make it much more complex compared to the natural background (pre-industrial). A Chromosomal / Neurological study done on a generational bias would be needed. Although with that caveat out of the way, there is plenty of literature on societal impact of VOCs for industrial exposure both as workers and living in decreasing proximity to its use, of which the results are always health negative, corporate profit positive.

        Skippy…pick your posion.

  5. Neil D

    I think we should ban all organic chemicals. Clearly they are too dangerous to handle. And of course, all Americans should be compensated for our exposure to these dangerous chemicals.

    On the other hand, we really should legalize drugs like marijuana because it couldn’t possibly be dangerous.

  6. jbmoore

    Um, there are petrochemical plants up and down the Mississippi River and 17 active refineries ( Since the oil companies support the Louisiana state EPA’s budget, we know there’s a gross conflict of interest and plenty of contaminated sites. However, one does not know if the residents got contaminated through their food, drinking water, air, or a combination of all three. And, they may have been contaminated before the oil spill ever happened. If the effects are due to the spill, then epidemiological studies and statistical analysis should show clusters of sickness correlated with where the oil came ashore along with the blood tests. Until those tests are done, blood analysis doesn’t prove where the contamination came from, just that people have high amounts of phenolic compounds in their blood. However, sore throat lozenges contain benzene. Toluene is a common commercial solvent in glues and magic markers for instance (

  7. Roger Bigod

    The numbers are gibberish without information about toxicity levels. It would also be helpful to know the levels in samples from before the spill and from other parts of the country. This posting is an annoying waste of time.

  8. AndyC

    When Obama took his kids down there for a dunking I became convinced that he was also there to don the leather jacket and waterskies and officially JUMP THE SHARK.

    He jumped the shark, while Sasha and Mailia burbled in the ether……….I mean water


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