Spanish researchers have found that local fisherman who took part in the 2002 cleanup after the oil tanker Prestige spilled more than 67,000 tons of oil contaminating the northwestern coast of Spain had increased prevalence rates of respiratory symptoms and biomarkers of pulmonary oxidative stress and growth factor activity, suggesting persistent airway injury. The findings are published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Following the oil spill, more than 300,000 volunteers participated in cleanup activities. Researchers sought to determine respiratory effects and chromosomal damage in cleanup workers 2 years after exposure.

The researchers studied 501 local fishermen who were highly exposed to the cleanup and compared their health to that of 177 fishermen who were not exposed. The researchers evaluated changes in lung function, assessed respiratory markers of oxidative stress and airway inflammation in exhaled breath condensate, and assessed chromosomal damage, a biomarker of increased risk of malignancy.

In addition to showing increased prevalence of respiratory symptoms and evidence of persistent airway injury, the workers showed higher levels of structural chromosomal abnormalities in circulating lymphocytes. According to the authors, the findings indicate that even short-term exposure to oil sediments may have detrimental health effects.

Source: Annals of Internal Medicine