Gulf Oil Spill and Air Quality: New Report Highlights Testing Gaps

Public health monitoring, like the air testing being conducted by EPA in response to the BP oil spill in the Gulf, depends on where the samples are taken.  Holes in the monitoring network can mean missed exposures and misrepresentation of the health threats experienced by impacted communities.  A new report released today by the Louisiana Bucket Brigade titled, Review of EPA’s Air Sampling Data in Louisiana found that the air monitoring conducted by EPA has some key gaps that could be fixed through partnerships with local communities.

I continue to hear from Gulf Coast residents about odors and health complaints from the oil spill.  They are frustrated by the disconnect between their experiences and the EPA website that continues to report that the data show no health risks.  This disconnect shows up clearly when you look at this great map the Bucket Brigade folks put together that compares the locations where people experienced oily odors to where EPA is conducting the air testing.  Without data from the areas where people are experiencing the odors and health complaints, how can we really know how the oil spill is impacting the air quality along the coast?

After the spill, EPA staff in Louisiana had to scramble to compensate for an almost complete lack of existing monitoring equipment in the impacted areas.  Unlike the coastal areas of Mississippi and Alabama, there weren’t existing monitoring stations they could rely on or re-deploy.  The monitoring stations set up in near Chalmette, Venice and Grand Isle are a good place to start but, as the report highlights, they aren’t enough.  EPA needs to take the next step and ensure that the monitoring is comprehensive and responsive to community concerns by implementing the following recommendations:

  • Improve response to community complaints
  • Ensure monitoring is conducted in the most impacted areas
  • Partner with communities to conduct additional monitoring

We are continuing to review EPA’s air quality data and weekly updates are available here.

About the Authors

Miriam Rotkin-Ellman

Senior Scientist, Health and Environment program

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