ALLERGY, RESPIRATORY
New Spray Could Benefit Cystic Fibrosis Patients
Traffic, Dust Linked to Asthma in Kids
Air Pollution May Raise Blood Pressure
ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE
Many Cancer Patients Turn to Complementary Medicine
Taking the Mystery Out of Hypnotherapy
38% of U.S. Adults Use Alternative Treatments
ANIMAL CARE
Beware of Dog Bites
'Comfort Dogs' Come to Emotional Rescue
Safe Toys for Dogs
BONES & JOINTS
Autumn Sees More Women With Bunion Problems
A Little Drink May Be Good for Your Bones
Fall Sports Peak Time for Lower Leg Damage
CANCER
Where You Live May Affect Your Cancer Diagnosis
Ginger Can Ease Nausea From Chemotherapy Treatments
Immune Therapy May Aid Kids With Neuroblastoma
CAREGIVING
More Than 60,000 Patients Risked Hepatitis Infections
Child's Food Allergies Take Toll on Family Plans
Diabetes Epidemic Now Poses Challenges for Nursing Homes
CIRCULATORY SYSTEM
Tai Chi and Qigong Offer Many Health Benefits: Review
An Apple a Day May Help Keep Heart Disease Away
Firefighters Have Narrower-Than-Normal Arteries, Study Finds
COSMETIC
New Genetic Links to Baldness Discovered
Science May Banish Bad Hair Days
Study Evaluates Laser Therapies for Hair Removal
DENTAL, ORAL
Amino Acid May Be Key to Strong Teeth
Sports Drinks May Be Tough on Teeth
Good Oral Hygiene May Protect Against Heart Infections
DIABETES
Older Diabetics With Depression Face Higher Death Rate
Arthritis Hits More Than Half of Diabetics
Diabetes Linked to Cognitive Problems
DIET, NUTRITION
Eating Healthy : You Can Live Longer
Functional Foods Uncovered
Brown Rice Bests White for Diabetes Prevention
DISABILITIES
Could Your Cell Phone Help Shield You From Alzheimer's?
Review Finds Marijuana May Help MS Patients
ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH
Air Pollution Raises Risk of Heart Disease, Death
Disinfectants Can Boost Bacteria's Resistance to Treatment
Bed Bugs Bring No Disease Danger
EYE CARE, VISION
Stem Cells Repair Damaged Corneas in Mice
Brain Pressure More Likely to Cause Vision Loss in Men
Don't Lose Sight of Halloween Safety
FITNESS
Almost Two-Thirds of Americans Meet Exercise Guidelines
Weak Muscles May Cause 'Runner's Knee'
Basketball Star Details His Struggle With Gout
GASTROINTESTINAL PROBLEMS
New Yogurt May Ease Stomach Ulcers
Bowel Prep Harder on Women Than Men
Traditional Nonsurgical GERD Treatments Not Impressive
GENERAL HEALTH
Swine Flu Now Reported in All 50 States
Household Insecticides May Be Linked to Autoimmune Diseases
Hand Washing 10 Times a Day May Help Keep Flu Away
HEAD & NECK
Ski Helmets Encouraged for All
Many Children Will Outgrow Headaches
Zen May Thicken Brain, Thwart Pain
HEALTH & TECHNOLOGY
'Comfort Dogs' Come to Emotional Rescue
Study Suggests Link Between Cell Phones and Brain Tumors
Save Your Aging Brain, Try Surfing The Web
HEARING
Summer Sounds Can Lead to Hearing Loss
Noise Hurts Men's Hearing More, Study Shows
HEART & CARDIOVASCULAR
Obese People Seem to Do Better With Heart Disease
Whole Grains Lower Risk of Heart Failure
Man's Best Friend Helps Mend Broken Hearts
INFECTIOUS DISEASE
Surgical Masks Could Prevent Flu, Maybe
The HPV Vaccine: Preventative Medicine or Human Sacrifice?
Swine Flu Is Now a Pandemic Says W.H.O.
INFERTILITY
Obesity May Affect Fertility in Young Womene
KID'S HEALTH
Health Tip: Back Pain in Children
Scorpion Anti-Venom Speeds Children's Recovery
Scary Toxins Make Halloween Face Paints Questionable
MEN'S HEALTH
Exercise May Prevent Prostate Cancer: Study Shows
Low Iron Levels Cut Cancer Risk in Men With PAD
Eating Fast Until Full Triples Overweight Risk
MENTAL HEALTH
Heal Your LifeŽ Tips for Living Well
Common Social Groups and Race, Seem to Help People Relate
Keeping a Healthy Holiday Balance
PAIN
Tai Chi May Help Ease Fibromyalgia
Acupuncture, Real or Fake, Eases Back Pain
'Cell Phone Elbow' -- A New Ill for the Wired Age
PHYSICAL THERAPY
PREGNANCY
Placebo Acupuncture Tied to Higher IVF Pregnancies
Acupuncture May Relieve Acid Indigestation In Pregnancy
Prenatal Stress May Boost Baby's Asthma Risk
SENIORS
Could Your Cell Phone Help Shield You From Alzheimer's?
Friends, Not Grandkids, Key to Happy Retirement
Video Gaming Just Might Fight Aging
SEXUAL HEALTH
SLEEP DISORDERS
Exercising Throat Muscles May Relieve Sleep Apnea
Lose Weight, Sleep Apnea May Improve
Meditation May Help Put Primary Insomnia to Bed
WOMEN'S HEALTH
Supplements Might Reduce Breast Cancer Risk
Frankincense Provides Relief for Osteoarthritis
Vitamin D Good for Breast Cancer Patients
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Is It Safe to Go in the Gulf Coast's Water?

Now that oil and tar balls from the massive Gulf oil spill have begun washing up on the beaches of four states, many are wondering: What, if any, are the health risks to beachgoers and residents of the region?

While the danger to humans may be not nearly as bad as pictures of oil-soaked pelicans would suggest, experts are divided on just how concerned people should be.

Miriam Rotkin-Ellman, a staff scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council, said beachgoers shouldn't be complacent. Clean-up workers and even some coastal residents, she said, are complaining of symptoms consistent with exposure to the volatile compounds found in oil, including dizziness, nausea, headaches and cough.

Those reports should be taken seriously, Rotkin-Ellman said, who noted that crude oil contains toxic and cancer-causing chemicals.

"There are definitely human health concerns related to the Gulf Oil spill, both in terms of workers, the community and long-term health concerns as contaminants persist in the environment," she said.

Not all experts agree that the spill poses a danger to the public at Gulf Coast beaches.

Data from the Occupational Health & Safety Administration (OSHA) show that clean-up and repair workers in the Gulf of Mexico near the spill have not been exposed to harmful levels of toxins, said Robert Emery, vice president for safety, health, environment and risk management at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. This confirms data from BP, the owner of the crippled oil rig that has spewed countless barrels of crude oil into the Gulf since an April 20 explosion that killed 11 workers about 40 miles off the Louisiana coast, Emery said.

Federal estimates place the total amount of oil spilled between 23.7 million and 51.5 million gallons, the worst oil spill in the nation's history.

If workers near the source of the spill don't seem to be in harm's way, then it's safe to presume that the oil reaching the shores of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida isn't much of a risk to beachgoers and residents, Emery said.

"The people you'd expect to be most intimately exposed to the chemicals contained in crude oil are those working on the water near the source of the leak," Emery said. "Now we have data not only from BP but OSHA that shows these worker exposures are minimal if not non-existent. That's good news and it's safe to assume the risks would be even less for the general public on the beaches."

Rotkin-Ellman disagreed, noting that much also remains unknown about the health effects of the massive amounts of chemical dispersants used to fight the spill that break an oil slick into small drops.

On one point experts agree: Beachgoers need to exercise common sense. That means avoiding swimming in water that's visibly contaminated by oil.

Crude oil contains many toxic chemicals, including volatile and semi-volatile organic compounds, Rotkin-Ellman said. Those compounds include benzene, ethylbenzene, xylene and naphthalene, all known carcinogens, she said.

While dangerous if ingested or inhaled, these chemicals tend to dissipate and evaporate over time, experts said. Research shows that the toxic potency of crude oil declines the longer the oil is floating in the water or in the air, a process called "weathering," Emery said.

Still, beachgoers can't tell on their own if the oil they encounter is fresh or has been floating around awhile, Emery said.

Before heading to the beach, Emery said it's a good idea to check with local or state authorities about health conditions.

Rotkin-Ellman said parents should be especially cautious about exposing children to oil-soiled beaches.

"Children's bodies are more vulnerable and susceptible to environmental contaminants," she said. "Their bodies don't process contaminants in the same way. Their skin can be more sensitive to the chemicals in oil. Certainly I would recommend keeping children away from any oily substance or oily water."

If you do encounter tar balls or oil slicks, don't touch them. Fresh crude oil is a skin irritant that can cause redness, burning and even ulcers with prolonged contact. Though the oil washing up on the beaches probably isn't as harsh, it's still a good idea to keep it off your skin, Emery said.

Oil tar is sticky and difficult to remove. If soap and water don't work, try petroleum jelly or a commercially sold de-greaser that's made to be used on the skin. People have been known to use gasoline to remove tar from their skin -- a bad idea all around, Emery said.

If you do smell fumes from an oil spill, people with respiratory ailments and asthma should stay indoors with the air-conditioner set on "re-circulate," Rotkin-Ellman said. The chemicals can irritate the eyes, nose and throat even at low concentrations.

And, by all means, report the odor to health authorities.

SOURCES: Robert Emery, Dr. P.H., vice president for safety, health, environment & risk management, University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston; Miriam Rotkin-Ellman, M.P.H., staff scientist, health and environment program, Natural Resources Defense Council, San Francisco Published on: June 10, 2010