Thursday, July 8, 2010

Canary In The Gulf Helps People Find Survival Information

Gas Can is the name of a canary, whose website reports toxic gases from BP's oil spill. The bird's blog monitors air quality samples from the US Environmental Protection Agency along the Gulf coast.

Created by Dan Youra, Gas Can wears a bird-size gas mask to protect him on his flights into toxic air. "Gases are scary things for all of us," says Youra. "I hatched Gas Can as a friendly ally to help us, and especially children, to confront the reality of gases in the Gulf." reports toxic events blowing over land.

On June 29 Hurricane Alex blew sustained levels of toxic particulate matter (PM10) up above EPA's highest and most dangerous warning levels – "Hazardous" and "Very Unhealthy" – for 24 continuous hours on Grand Isla, Louisiana.

Hazardous Warning: People with heart or lung disease, older adults, and children should remain indoors and keep activity levels low. Everyone else should avoid all physical activity outdoors.

Very Unhealthy Warning: People with heart or lung disease, older adults, and children should avoid all physical activity outdoors. Everyone else should avoid prolonged or heavy exertion.

Three of six days from June 20 to June 26 registered "Unhealthy" for toxic particulate matter (PM10) on EPA's air quality monitors in Venice, Louisiana.
Unhealthy Warning: People with heart or lung disease, older adults, and children should avoid prolonged or heavy exertion. Everyone else should reduce prolonged or heavy exertion.

EPA watched volatile organic compounds skyrocket past 70 parts per million on Grand Isle on June 19th. Concentrations above 10 ppm are considered significant potential for health risks by the National Resources Defense Council (
According to Dr. Gina Solomon, medical expert on toxicology with the National Resources Defense Council, "the most worrisome VOC in oil is benzene. It is known to cause leukemia in humans."

Dan Youra, editor of a commercial distiller's manual, is experienced in the danger that gases from crude oil represent, when they escape the normal containment of industrial refining. Youra knows of more than 250 chemical compounds in crude oil and natural gas. "Many toxic gases from the oil well blowout are entering the air every day," warns Youra. "Some are the cancer causing and concentrations are increasing," adds Youra.

Prior to widespread use of electronic gas sensors in coal mines, miners carried a caged canary into coal mines to warn of wayward gases. According to Youra, "if the canary stopped chirping and died, it indicated the presence of toxic gases and the urgency of exiting the mine."

Youra's canary cartoon figure adds a lighter side to the deadly seriousness of the subject matter and is a modern manifestation of the life supporting role canaries played in toxic gas detection.

According to Youra, "EPA is carrying an empty birdcage into the mine. EPA gathers air samples and then looks for averages." Youra looks for extremes. "The 'outlier' data point is the canary," Youra says.

Youra cautions, "Gases sneak up on you." Average amounts of gases at low levels may not kill. "Until they accumulate!" he emphasizes. "One whiff of highly toxic gas can evade EPA's 'normal', but it may be enough to drop a person into convulsions, unconsciousness or even death." reports on the anomalies, the accumulations and the trends in toxic concentrations."EPA's averages do not tally up the accumulations of gases," Youra states. "Breathing a little toxic gas every day is the same, and in many cases worse, than breathing a big gulp all at once," he cautions. links to national health resources on the web. According to Youra, it is important to educate everyone, including children, about navigating the minefield of gases.
"Top priority is to recognize the symptoms of toxic exposure to gases," Youra says. Dizziness, headache and loss of balance can be signs of exposure. Youra coaches Gas Can to help kids learn the basics.

Gas Can is on the mobile web at
Youra was interviewed about toxic gases by Mike Siegel on Lars Larson National Radio Show. Youra's study of gases in the Gulf is quoted in by Hank Richards.

Dan Youra is editor of the Alcohol Distiller's Manual for Gasahol and Spirits, published for Dona Carolina Distillers, San Antonio, Texas. Youra studied quantitative analysis in graduate school at Ohio State University's Behavioral Sciences Laboratory. He is the publisher with Michael W. Mandeville of Solar Alcohol: The Fuel Revolution.

See also: BP'S Benzene Blows ashore in the Gulf , Gulf Oil Disaster: EPA Air Quality Data Doesn't Pass Smell Test , Attention Gulf Coast: Prepare To Abandon Ship , Presence of Airborne Toxic Gulf Gases Confirmed , The Gulf Disaster Death Gasses , Gulf of Mexico's Airborne Toxins Move Inland - Dr. Says MOVE OUT , Gulf Oil Spill: Catastrophe of Biblical Proportions

See more on the Endless Eruption in the Gulf of Mexico.

1 comment:

  1. We do not know what human health effects might occur after long-term exposure to food and water contaminated with benzene. In animals, exposure to food or water contaminated with benzene can damage the blood and the immune system and can cause cancer.

    Cancer is not something that will show up after a week of exposure to toxic chemicals - it can and does take years to form and cause its insidious damage. Telling the Gulf Locals to stay inside is not the answer.... the poison is everywhere, carried, as it were on the winds.......


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