Nightly News   |  May 30, 2010

Health risks spread with oil spill

At least 9 clean-up workers at the BP oil spill have reported sickness. Some scientists say oil and dispersants could cause respiratory, neurological, or genetic damage. Michelle Kosinski reports on the possible health consequences of the growing spill.

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LESTER HOLT, anchor: After weeks of assessing the potential harm of all this oil on wildlife, a disturbing picture is beginning to emerge of what it may be doing to people. NBC 's Michelle Kosinski joins us from Grand Isle , Louisiana , with more on the possible health consequences from the spill. Hi, Michelle.

MICHELLE KOSINSKI reporting: Hi , there, Lester . You know, this place, the people here is like nowhere else in the world. And we've seen so much on what this disaster's already doing to their economy. Look at this. What was a shrimp boat , now it's an oily boom boat. The bigger question, of course, being, what could all this do to people's health? Thousands of gulf fishermen have been loading their boats each morning with boom instead of bait.

Unidentified Man #1: Anxiousness, nervousness.

KOSINSKI: And now some are getting sick, at least nine so far, some admitted to the hospital, where one gave a statement.

Unidentified Man #2: (From West Jefferson Medical Center Video): I was feeling weak and I thought it was I had real high blood pressure. We believe maybe it's from the dispersal, but they have other guys, too, that was feeling bad, headaches and nauseated and...

KOSINSKI: Most have the same symptoms, working around the oil and chemical dispersant in the hot sun.

Dr. ROBERT CHUGDEN (West Jefferson Medical Center): Headache, nausea, dizziness, some skin irritation, burning when they breathed.

KOSINSKI: Shrimpers are now asking BP to provide respirators, something we haven't seen among any of the cleanup workers. Federal scientists also have questions about conditions out there, and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius wrote a letter to BP , "We have to be concerned about the future impact on public health " and " long-term consequences," urging the company to "accept responsibility for the health consequences of this disaster." It seems to worry everyone here, especially families of those whose only living now is cleaning up someone else's enormous mess.

Unidentified Woman: He came in the next morning extremely sick, coughing, deep, deep cough, sinuses backed up, some fluid in his ears.

KOSINSKI: But no one fully knows what the short- or long-term effects will be. It's a unique situation with so many variables right now. This is how Bobby Pitre feels about that.

Mr. BOBBY PITRE: In the long run, I just think it's going to be -- I mean, people are going to break out with tumors, you know, or kids are going to break out with tumors or just crazy, you don't know what to expect.

KOSINSKI: A fear that has been contagious here.

Unidentified Boy: Because they'll get sick, very, very sick.

KOSINSKI: Which is one more thing they don't need. Just a lot of questions right now. And today BP said that there is no real evidence that dispersants are making people sick. What might be more reassuring to people here is the number of federal agencies now monitoring

this situation: OSHA, NOAA , EPA , CDC , FDA , and the National Disaster Medical System is also activated in case people need more help. Lester :

HOLT: Michelle Kosinski tonight, thank you.