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Oil's Impact on Your Health

BERKELEY, Calif. (Ivanhoe Newswire) -- The United States consumes 20 million barrels of oil every day. That's 2.5 gallons of oil per person per day. We use it in everything from our cars to making water bottles. We’ve seen the devastation our dependence to oil has had in the gulf -- birds, fish, and wildlife. But what is the impact of all of that oil on all of us?

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As the disaster continues to unfold and the oil continues to contaminate our water, 20,000 people are working around the clock to clean up the shores, putting their health at risk. But environmental health scientists studying public health risks at the University of California at Berkeley are uncovering what affects oil -- not just this oil spill -- has on all of us.

"In the US right now, we're using 5,000 gallons of gasoline per second," Thomas McKone, Ph.D., an environmental health scientist at University of California Berkeley, told Ivanhoe.

Dr. McKone says the life cycle of oil takes a toll, start to finish.

"In the 1920s, if we did life cycle assessment, we would have never gone forward with gasoline," Dr. McKone explained.

Even without a large spill, fumes come out of all oil wells and rise into our atmosphere.

"The substances in there are carcinogens, reproductive hazards," Dr. McKone said.

Add to that the exhaust from transporting the oil.

"There's local pollution around the transfer facilities," he pointed out.

Then, there's the exhaust from our cars and the vapors released at gas stations every time we fill up.

"Fine particles, which we know are associated with respiratory illness, heart disease, cancer," Dr. McKone commented.

But would replacing oil with biofuels make a difference? Dr. McKone is now looking at the life cycle assessment of bio fuels. Will a more environmentally friendly alternative be healthier?

"If we switch to a new fuel, will this go up or down?" Dr. McKone asked.

But the real answer, he says, won't be known for decades. So what can people do now? Until then, Dr. McKone is cutting down on his oil use and revving up his health.

Although European countries have been doing risk assessment on fuels for decades, it's not mandatory here in the United States, making it more difficult to get hard results on the impact of fuels and our health.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health contributed to the information contained in the TV portion of this report.

Click here to Go Inside This Science or contact:

Thomas McKone, PhD
Environmental Health Scientist
University of California- Berkeley
Berkeley, CA 94720-7360
(510) 642-8771

National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
Fred Blosser
(202) 260-8519

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