Michigan health officials say contact with oil from Enbridge spill not likely to cause cancer
State health officials are reassuring people who live near the Kalamazoo River that touching submerged oil on the river bottom is not likely to cause cancer.
Last summer a rupture in a pipeline operated by Enbridge spilled over 800,000 gallons of diluted bitumen — tar sands oil — into the Kalamazoo River system.
In July federal environmental officials announced that submerged oil still covers 200 acres of river bottom, mostly near residential areas.
At a meeting put on by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in Marshall last night, Michigan Dept. of Community Health toxicologist Jennifer Gray said her department has determined that touching the submerged oil over the course of a season will not cause long-term health effects or a higher than normal risk of cancer but may cause short term effects such as skin irritation.
“The Public Health Assessment only discusses direct contact with the submerged oil,” MDCH said in a statement. “It does not evaluate breathing in chemicals from the remaining oil or any public safety concerns posed by the on-going cleanup of oil in the river.”
MDCH also emphasized that despite its findings, the river remains closed to the public.
A full copy of the report is available from the department website.
Fritz Klug of the Kalamazoo Gazette reports that while some of the 130 residents at the meeting were cheered by news of the MDCH study, others were upset.
[Phyllis] Nelson lives in the Baker Estates Mobile Home Parkin Battle Creek, which the river flows through. She said she has developed sores on her arm, which she never had before the spill. Other people who live in the trailer park have also developed various health problems, Nelson said.
“It’s bull—-,” she said. “Swim in the water and say it’s safe.”
Nelson said she has lung problems that have gotten worse since the spill, and that sometimes she said she can barely swallow or breath. She questions the study results presented at the meeting.
About 60 percent of residents who lived near the river reported acute health effects, such as headaches and bloody noses, according to a Calhoun County Health Department study.