Tasman Spirit Oil Spill Sickened Pakistani Coastal Residents

KARACHI, Pakistan, April 4, 2006 (ENS) - People living on the coast of Karachi near the location of the 2003 Tasman Spirit oil spill have experienced more health problems than individuals living inland, new research shows.

On July 27, 2003, the Greek tanker Tasman Spirit carrying crude oil from Iran to Pakistan ran aground at the entrance to Karachi Port. About two weeks later, on the night of August 13, the ship broke apart and spilled some of its cargo into the sea.

Strong winds and rough seas spread the light crude along 10 kilometers (seven miles) of the highly populated residential and recreational coastline. After this incident, there were two more spills - the latest on August 29, resulting in a total spill of more than 35,000 tons of oil.

Fumes from the volatile organic compounds and mist containing hydrocarbons, accompanied by a strong smell, dispersed into the residential area, the researchers and others said. Local hospitals reported many cases of headaches, nausea and dizziness and seventeen schools in the vicinity were closed for about a week. Local media showed pictures of piles of dead fish and turtles on the oiled beach.

An initial assessment suggested that about 11,000 metric tons of volatile organic compounds entered the air after the spills.


The Tasman Spirit broke apart August 13, 2003, spilling oil into the sea near the Karachi coast. (Photo courtesy ITOPF)
In the first study of its kind from a less developed country affected by an oil spill, Naveed Janjua and colleagues from Aga Khan University in Karachi, the Sindh Environmental Protection Agency in Karachi and the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Public Health, studied a group of 216 individuals living on the Karachi coast.

The study period started in September 2003, three weeks after the Tasman Spirit spilled its oil off the coast of Karachi.

The scientists assessed the immediate health impact of oil spill from the tanker Tasman Spirit on residents of the affected coastline in Karachi, Pakistan.

About 700,000 people live in this area. The public was prohibited from visiting the beach after spill, but residents were not asked to evacuate. Study participants were selected randomly within the selected geographic areas.

Their research published Monday in the open access journal BMC Public Health, reveals that individuals living on the coast near the oil spill, report an average of 14 different health symptoms. This is more than three times the number reported by populations living two or 20 kilometers away from the coast.

The researchers also studied a group of 83 people living two kilometers (1.2 miles) from the coast and another group of 101 individuals living 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) from the coast.

The authors asked participants to fill in a questionnaire about their living conditions and their health. In particular, they asked about a list of 48 symptoms including eye, skin, respiratory, gastrointestinal and general symptoms.

The questionnaires revealed that the group living on the coast near the oil spill reported having more multiple health problems than the other two groups.

Out of the list of 48 symptoms investigated, the group living on the coast reported having a mean symptom score of 14.1, compared with a score of 4.4 for the group living two kilometers away, and 3.8 for the group living 20 kilometers inland.

Authors of the study include Deputy Director of the Sindh Environment Protection Agency Shahid Lutfi, and Nalini Sathiakumar, an occupational epidemiologist and pediatrician on the faculty of the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Public Health.

In their paper, the researchers point out that previous investigations of the Sea Empress, the Nakhodka and the Shetland oil spills found an increased occurrence of upper respiratory tract irritation, exacerbation of asthma, vertigo, headache, and back and leg pains and psychological ailments among persons living in exposed areas and clean-up workers

The authors conclude that the long-term effects of crude oil spills on the health of local populations should be the subject of further study.