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DOH seeks continuing medical surveillance on oil spill victims

February 16, 2007

LONG-TERM HEALTH RISK

By DAVID ISRAEL SINAY
Panay News, Feb. 15, 2007

ILOILO City – The Department of Health (DOH) plans to establish medical surveillance systems to monitor the long-term effects of bunker oil exposure to human health, six months after the M/T Solar 1 oil spill that stained the shores of the island-province of Guimaras.

Exposure to bunker fuel has adverse effects to human health. DOH said these include cancer (Category 2B as classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer), anemia, low platelet count, depressed reticulocyte count, spontaneous abortion, birth defects, fatigue, depression, lack of initiative, dizziness and sleep disturbances, impaired attention and sensori-motor speed, among others.

briefing
Dr. Lyn Panganiban of the University of the Philippines – College of Medicine – Philippine General Hospital National Poison Management & Control Center reports their findings on the Guimaras oil spill, specifically with regards to health issues. (DAVID ISRAEL SINAY/PN)

DOH and a team of experts from the University of the Philippines (UP) College of Medicine – Philippine General Hospital (PGH) National Poison Management & Control Center began studying the health effects of the oil spill right after it occurred in August last year. Yesterday, Health Undersecretary Ethelyn Nieto presented their findings to the media and Guimaras Gov. Rahman Nava.

The provincial government of Guimaras estimated 4,000 households complained of respiratory illness, dizziness, dermatitis and stomach ache.

The DOH-UP team concluded that the clinical findings among residents living in the affected areas were consistent with acute bunker oil exposure.

Of the 594 individuals examined, the team reported that 97 percent had sulfhemoglobinemia while 89.4 percent had methemoglobinemia due to their exposure to bunker oil.

The ambient air monitoring for hydrogen sulfide gas and volatile organic compounds in Barangays Cabalagnan and La Paz in Nueva Valencia town exceeded the US-Environmental Protection Agency Preliminary Remediation Goal (USEPA-PRG) standards, thus presenting significant risk to people’s health.

The study also showed that six out of nine water samples had elevated levels of nickel, lead and arsenic. However, polyaromatic hydrocarbons were “non-detectable.”

Dr. Lyn Panganiban of the UP-PGH Poison Center suggested:

• the immediate medical follow-ups of residents with abnormal physical and laboratory findings
• strengthen the technical capabilities of health care providers in addressing toxicologic health issues related to the oil spill
• ensure the provision of the necessary medical interventions; and
• maintain a multidisciplinary, multi-sectoral approach in the conduct of the surveillance system and rehabilitation programs in the province.

The DOH-UP-PGH team conducted its first inspection on August 23, 2006. The second – to quantify the effects of exposure to bunker oil on human health – was done in September 5 last year.

Last year, the DOH and the National Poison Management & Control Center released initial findings showing high levels of hydrogen sulfide emissions particularly in Brgys. La Paz and Cabalagnan “exceeding the USEPA-PRG which is 0.00071 ppm (parts per million).”

They also disclosed that polyaromatic hydrocarbons exceeded the USEPA-PRG standard.

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources, on the other hand, measured the quality of ambient air as safe at 0.07 ppm on hydrogen sulfide emissions based on the Clean Air Act of 1999.

Nieto said some P22 million is needed to realize the medical surveillance systems to monitor the long-term effects of bunker oil exposure to the health of affected Guimaras residents.

“P12 million will be spent for disease surveillance alone. This includes the detection and response to outbreaks and the monitoring and evaluation of the operation, among others,” Nieto said.

DOH had already spent some P5 million to purchase medicines, personnel protective equipment and hospitalization of affected residents, including the conduct of the research, revealed Nieto.

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