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Gulf oil spill: benzene exposure risks monitored

28 June 2010

Concateno has provided the first benzene urine test kits and exposure analysis for vessels involved in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill clean-up operation. The task of cleaning up the tens of millions of gallons of crude oil spilled in the Gulf of Mexico is now underway.

Gulf oil spill: benzene exposure risks monitored
Gulf oil spill: benzene exposure risks monitored

To date some 5,360 response vessels and more than 25,000 people have been involved in the efforts. With such a large scale operation, the risk of exposure to the highly toxic and volatile chemical benzene is a significant threat. Benzene is a flammable liquid which occurs naturally in crude oil and natural gas; crew onboard vessels involved in the clean-up efforts may be exposed to dangerous levels if their working environment is not carefully monitored and controlled.

"Seafarers can ingest benzene by inhalation, but also absorb it through the skin – even through indirect contact given its volatile nature. In the short term, exposure to low levels can cause numerous health problems including tremors, headaches and unconsciousness. Benzene is a significant cause of leukaemia and other blood-related illnesses, and exposure to high concentrations can cause death," said Neil James, head of Concateno’s Maritime division.

Concateno’s Benzene Exposure Biomonitoring (BEB) measures S-PMA (S-phenyl mercapturic acid), a benzene metabolite produced when benzene is absorbed into the body. The procedure allows rapid screening of at-risk individuals as required, which helps to identify and minimise potential exposure to hazardous substances therefore protecting the health of the seafaring crew.

BEB uses state-of-the-art urine analysis to rapidly identify exposure and trends. The benefit of using a urine sample is that it is easy to collect on board, and can determine all possibilities of exposure, either through inhalation or contact with the skin. Such monitoring will help determine the effectiveness of an organisation’s health and safety procedures and provide peace of mind for the crew.

BEB technology is being adopted in the Gulf of Mexico by Norwegian shipping company Eidesvik, which is using Concateno’s sample collection kits to ensure that its seafarers are continually monitored for the presence of benzene.

As is always the case onboard Concateno’s customers’ vessels, the health and welfare of all crew members is paramount. During this clean-up operation, Eidesvik is particularly mindful of the health risks of benzene exposure.

The Concateno benzene kits provide the organisation a simple method of testing its seafarers. Urine samples are taken using the vials supplied, and bio-packaged ready for dispatch to Concateno’s laboratories. Analysis takes a few hours and customers can have the results faxed or emailed back to them within two days.

James added: "Since we have added a low-cost, sensitive benzene test to our range of drug and alcohol services, the kits have been quickly taken up by shipping companies across the world. Many vessels keep a stock of the test on board ready for instances such as the current operation in the Gulf of Mexico. Our test provides a simple, fast and cost-effective means of determining exposure to this hazardous compound. "

Concateno’s network of staff across all the major shipping routes and international petrochemical locations ensures maritime organisations can benefit from the widest range of efficient, professional and responsive testing programmes in the market. Concateno’s experience, accredited processes and rapid turnaround times means its customers are guaranteed unsurpassed accuracy and integrity.

With such a large-scale disaster and long-term exposure to highly toxic chemicals expected for many, Concateno would urge any shipping company working on the clean-up operation to consider adopting an effective benzene testing programme."

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