Last April we witnessed one of the worst environmental disasters when the Deep Water Horizon rig exploded, leading to the most detrimental oil spill in US history.
The environmental impact soon became apparent, with staggering statistics revealing that an estimated 4.9 million barrels of crude oil were released in the Gulf of Mexico, with BP accruing around $8 billion in operational costs. The clean-up process involved up to 55,000 people.
With such a large scale operation, the risk of exposure to the highly toxic and volatile chemical benzene became a significant threat to those involved in the aftermath. This was recognised on the 1st March this year, when the US government launched a long-range health study of people who helped clean up last year’s BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
Since the oil spill, many organisations have tried to improved measures to not only avoid such tragedies, but also protect workers from the hazards involved in the shipment and transporting of crude oil and oil products.
In January this year the Oil Companies International Marine Forum (OCIMF) upgraded their guidelines to provide vessel operators with some further guidance to minimise the exposure of benzene vapour. The revision in its vessel inspection SIRE questionnaire means that when a tanker carries chemicals, safety inspectors can now use urine testing to detect exposure to hazardous substances.
It’s unfortunate that it has taken an environmental disaster to improve awareness of the effects of benzene, but the important thing here is that at least some lessons are being learned.