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TILT: flu-like symptoms plaguing Gulf cleanup workers

June 17th, 2010  |  Connie Eyer

The latest in a seemingly never-ending series of horror stories arising in the wake of the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico comes to us in the form of a new acronym: TILT, short for Toxicant-Induced Loss of Tolerance. Cleanup workers—formerly known as shrimpers, oystermen and fishermen, but now increasingly known as patients—have reported strange, flu-like symptoms such as joint pains, upper respiratory problems, difficulty breathing, stomach cramping, nervousness, inability to concentrate, balance difficulty, nausea, headaches, skin rashes, pain with or frequent urination.

Workers’ complaints to BP initially went unheeded as the company claimed it was unaware of any such problems and was slow to provide respirators to workers who  experienced symptoms from odors associated with both petroleum and the chemical dispersants used to combat the spill.

 According to InventorSpot.com, TILT (also known as Multiple Chemical Sensitivity) can be caused by exposure to diesel or gas engine exhaust, gasoline, tobacco smoke, insecticide, cleaning products like disinfectants or bleach cleansers, fresh tar or asphalt… even perfume-y odors, nail polish remover, or new furnishings. Pregnant women and asthmatics are most susceptible to TILT.

Despite a request to OSHA in late May by George Miller (D-Cal), Chair of the House Education and Labor Committee, to ensure that there were sufficient OSHA personnel dispatched to the Gulf of Mexico “to properly and aggressively protect the health and safety of those involved in the [BP] oil cleanup activities,” workers and citizens of Gulf communities are still getting sick.

While BP says it’s doing all it can to keep supplies stocked and has had to turn to foreign companies for help, the AP reports that, with demand so high for everything from plastic gloves, to oil-blocking booms and sand-sifting machines, finding enough items to outfit workers and protect the coast is an unending task. Added to that, the summer’s heat and humidity of the region pretty much ensures that we’ll be hearing  a lot more about TILT.

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