The Gulf Coast Oil Spill & Your Health: Tips for Clean-Up Workers

dispersed oil breton island photo

Dispersed oil near Breton Island, Louisiana. Photo: NRDC via flickr.
This is a repost of an article written by Dr Gina Solomon from NRDC, originally appearing on Switchboard.

I continue today with Part 3 of my Q&A; about oil spill health concerns with a look at tips for people helping out with the clean-up effort. You can find answers to basic background questions in my first Q&A; post here, and to questions about who's at risk in my second Q&A; post here.

And if you still have health questions I haven't addressed, please leave them in a comment and I'll see if I can answer them.If I want to help with the clean-up, what kind of protective equipment do I need?
A half-face vapor cartridge respirator, rubber boots, and butyl rubber gloves are the absolute minimum equipment needed if you will be in the oil-contaminated zone, or a zone where the dispersants are being used. Skin protection could also include Tyvek arm protectors, or a full Tyvek suit if there's a risk of skin contact. For proper protection, you should be fit-tested for the respirator, to make sure it is adequately protecting you. We are looking for information about places where people can go to be fit-tested. I'll add that information when I can find it.  A paper respirator mask and thin latex gloves will not protect you from the oil or from the dispersants that are being used.

What are your recommendations for how local residents should protect themselves?
Avoid areas where oil can be seen or smelled. If you see or smell oil, leave the area right away.

  • Avoid any direct skin contact with oil, oil-contaminated water and sediments.

  • If any oil makes contact with your skin, wash it off immediately with soap and water.
  • Do not fish, swim, or engage in water sports in the oil spill-affected waters.
  • Young children, pregnant women, people with compromised immune systems, and individuals with underlying respiratory conditions should avoid the areas near the contaminated water.
  • If you experience symptoms such as headache, nausea, dizziness, or throat irritation, leave the area immediately; if the symptoms do not resolve within a few minutes, seek medical attention.

Anyone who experiences difficulty breathing, shortness of breath, or other serious symptoms should seek immediate medical attention.
People are renting out rooms in their homes to the responders. Could this be a risk of possible exposure?
Yes. To limit exposure, people should not wear work shoes or boots into the house, and should have facilities where they can shower and change their clothes before going into homes. If showering and changing is not possible, then all contaminated clothing should be removed before entering the house. Oil-soaked clothing should be discarded in sealed plastic bags. Slightly soiled clothing should be laundered separately from clean clothes.

More on the BP Oil Spill:
BP Gulf Oil Spill Cheat Sheet: A Timeline of Unfortunate Events
How Will the BP Oil Spill Affect Critically Endangered Bluefin Tuna?
Rush Limbaugh on the BP Oil Spill: "It's as natural as the ocean water is."

The Gulf Coast Oil Spill & Your Health: Tips for Clean-Up Workers
I continue today with Part 3 of my Q&A; about oil spill health concerns with

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