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People who were hired to clean up the Gulf of Mexico following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill are at a higher risk of developing different types of cancers, including leukemia and liver cancer, due to significantly changed blood profiles, according to the findings of a new study by Houston's University Cancer and Diagnostic Centers, published in the Journal of American Medicine.

Researchers examined a total of 247 people between January 2010 and November 2012, of which 117 were involved in the Gulf of Mexico oil spill cleanup, while the remaining 130 individuals were a control group, consisting of residents of areas located at least 100 miles away from the affected region.

The leader of the research, Dr. Mark D'Andrea, said that exposure to oil could be dangerous because it contains benzene — a substance that is a strong carcinogen and that is easily absorbed through human skin. Although workers were equipped with protective outfits during the cleanup procedures, they may have removed some of it because of the heat or may have used dilutants to remove residue, he explained.

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Once benzene enters the blood system, it can reach all parts of the body, including bone marrow, the researchers said. Toxins are filtered in the liver and the organ can be very seriously damaged from benzene exposure, increasing the risk of developing liver cancer.

Workers, who were exposed to crude in the cleanup, also reported a series of common symptoms, such as headaches, shortness of breath, skin rashes and chronic coughs, the study also showed.