Potential Health Hazards of the Gulf Oil Spill



The biggest oil spill in history might be over but the consequences remain and will persist for a long, long time. We are all aware of the detrimental effects of the spill on plant and animal life and the environment. However, less is known about the potential health hazards of the spill. Medscape interviewed Dr. Vikas Kapil, Associate Director for Science for the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Response at the CDC in Atlanta, Georgia. Here are some info from the interview:

Who are at greatest risk?

  • Workers at the spill who help in the cleaning up operations are the ones most at risk.
  • People residing on the shoreline close to the spill may also be at risk, though to a much lesser degree.

What are the potential hazards?

Here are some of the potential sources of hazards of the oils spill:

•Ergonomic hazards that can cause injury to the musculoskeletal system;

•High noise levels;

•Sun exposure and dehydration; and

•Injuries due to slips, trips, and falls on slippery walking and working surfaces.

•Chemical pneumonitis, if aspirated into the lungs;

•Respiratory irritation as a result of repeated and prolonged inhalation exposure to vapor; and

•Eye irritation as a result of repeated and prolonged exposure.

What are the preventive and safety measures that one should take to avoid these hazards?

•They can limit their exposure to smoke by remaining indoors and using an air conditioner to filter the air. If available, air conditioning units should be set to “recirculation mode.” Those without access to an air conditioner may wish to evacuate until the smoke is completely gone.

•They should refrain from physical exertion. Physical activity that places extra demands on the lungs and heart — exercise or physical chores, indoors or outdoors — should be kept to a minimum.

  • Dust masks, bandanas, or other cloths — even if wet — will not protect against smoke inhalation.

The EPA is continuously monitoring the air quality in the area. Water supplies, however, are not at risk for contamination. The Department of Health and Human Services has set up an oil spill distress helpline

Other resources that you can check out:

CDC: 2010 Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill.

HHS Oil Spill Distress Helpline

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NOTE: The contents in this blog are for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as medical advice, diagnosis, treatment or a substitute for professional care. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health professional before making changes to any existing treatment or program. Some of the information presented in this blog may already be out of date.
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