Msnbc.com's JoNel Aleccia reports from New Orleans:
Even as scientists meet here to examine the potential health effects of the massive Gulf of Mexico oil spill, surveillance systems show only mild impacts on people so far, judging by the number of reports.
With more than 33,000 workers and volunteers deployed to the spill, there have been 143 reports of oil-related illnesses logged by the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals as of this week. That includes 108 spill workers and 35 members of the public. Twenty people — 17 workers and three community members — were briefly hospitalized for complaints usually related to strong oil odors. Everybody felt better once they left the smelly area though, said Lisa Faust, a spokeswoman for the health department.
So far, 357 oil exposure complaints have been reported to the American Association of Poison Control Centers. People who suspect spill-related problems should call 1-800-222-1222
But health officials say that reports of headaches, nausea, sore throat and dizziness may only be the immediate short-term effects of the spill. To track potentially serious and long-term effects, such as the development of cancer or other illnesses, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health has launched the most robust monitoring system of oil spill workers to date. As of last week, 14,664 workers had volunteered to be part of a long-term tracking system.
What that may reveal about future health problems is the big question for top researchers gathered by the Institute of Medicine over the next two days.
No one expects to come away with concrete answers, just a better understanding of what this massive environmental disaster might mean for the people caught in its path, said Nancy E. Adler, a scientist at the University of California at San Francisco who helped organize the meeting.