Impacts of oil spills: Ecological, human health and economic

Lee, Hannah
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The 1979 Ixtoc I and 2010 Deepwater Horizon are the two largest accidental oil spills that have occurred in history, and both have been near United States waters. After an oil spill occurs, ecology, human health and economy are major concerns. Specifically, this thesis discusses the impacts of oil spills on microbes, marine organisms, human health and revenue. The major focus of this research was on the oil spills near the Gulf of Mexico. Although there have been numerous oil spills in history, these two spills were chosen because they were the largest in volume and time. While spills from oil tankers are more common, both of these oil spills were caused by broken wellheads. Most of the data and analysis conducted in this research utilized information from Ixtoc I and Deepwater Horizon. However, Ixtoc I was not highly publicized and there was not sufficient data on the long term impacts of Ixtoc I in the Gulf of Mexico. Therefore, data was extracted from the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill. The research methodology consisted of a review of published journal articles that provided information to address the question “What are the long term and short term effects of oil spills on ecology, human health and the economy?” Short term impacts included the creation of hypoxia closer to the surface of the ocean causing marine life to die or flee, closure of waters to fishing resulting in economic impacts on surrounding communities, and various human health symptoms such as respiratory, ocular and dermal. Many animal species at risk of being endangered before the spill were at risk of long term consequences due to an inability to return to pre-spill population sizes.