The massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico may cause cancer and other health hazards, a US—based environment watchdog has warned.

Healthcare workers and general public could face risks by inhaling various components of crude oil such as benzene, toluene and polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons, all of which may cause cancer, the Natural Resources Defence Council (NRDC) said.

Crude oil also contains mercury and lead, both of which can be dangerous if inhaled or swallowed, the group said in a statement.

Short—term effects include skin and respiratory problems while longer—term risks are uncertain, the NRDC said.

It said some people living along the coast were already reporting headaches, nausea, coughing and throat irritation.

“There are significant health risks associated with this oil spill, and the risks aren’t just to wildlife, they are also to humans,” Gina Solomon, a senior scientist with the NRDC, was quoted as saying by Xinhua.

The immediate worry, said Ms. Solomon, is what are called volatile organic compounds, which include chemicals like benzene that can be released in vapour form from the oil floating in the water.

“These chemicals can cause acute health effects such as headache, nausea, vomiting, cough, dizziness. The chemicals can also cause longer—term effects, including the potential for miscarriage or low birth weight in pregnant women and risk of cancer over the longer term,” he said.

Since the BP offshore oil—rig explosion April 20, at least 200,000 gallons of oil a day have been pouring into the Gulf of Mexico.

Keywords: Health hazards