Oil spill clean-up: a trade-off between human health and ecological restoration?

Although the frequency and amount of spills have decreased in the past decade, recent episodes of oil spills have been of an incomparable scale, such as the Gulf oil spill, or have occurred in a populated area with active fishing activities, such as the Hebei Spirit and Prestige oil spills. Too often the responses to disasters have been mainly focused on ecological and financial aspects, and the consequences of such disasters to health have not received the attention they deserve.

Removal of spilled oil on the coast is mostly done manually, which requires the involvement of a large labour force over an extended period. Although its chemical composition changes over time, residual oil remnants still contain various toxic chemicals. Therefore, the health of the clean-up workers is of major concern.

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