While your heart might break at the images of oil-saturated birds and the stories of small fishing-based communities losing everything, there are few other ways the gulf oil spill can affect your health – particularly if you live near the Gulf.
For those of you living close to the spill, or who may come in contact with it as it makes its way up the East Coast, the CDC offers a few basic tips:
- Avoid skin contact; if you’re helping with the clean-up – wear gloves, eye, protection, and cover your arms and legs
- If you get oil on your skin, wash with soap, water, baby oil, petroleum jelly, or a cleaning paste you might find at an auto parts store. DO NOT USE solvents, gasoline, kerosene, diesel fuel, or similar products.
- If you get oil in your eyes, flush them with water for 15 minutes.
- If you swallow oil, DO NOT TRY TO VOMIT because you may end up with oil in your lungs.
- If you inhale oil vapors or smoke from burning oil, move to an area with cleaner air. Seek medical attention if you’ve inhaled a substantial amount or if you have trouble breathing or feel dizzy.
If you are worried about your seafood getting contaminated, you can keep tabs on food safety on the FDA’s oil spill site, which includes federal and state links regarding closed waters. State and federal officials are monitoring the water and the food coming out of the Gulf to ensure that it remains safe to consume. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) a scientific agency within the Department of Commerce focused on the conditions of the oceans and atmosphere, is closing fish and seafood harvesting areas that are contaminated as a precautionary measure. The FDA states on their site that ‘there is no reason to believe that any contaminated product has made its way to the market.’
To learn more about the air, water, and food monitoring that’s being done by the government to protect your health, visit HHS’ oil spill site.
By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director
This has been a terrible season for American workers engaged in dangers jobs. Last month, 29 coalminers died when the Massey mine in West Virginia collapsed; and 11 oil rig workers died April 20 after the massive explosion in BP’s Deepwater Horizon operation. The Wall Street Journal reported on May 18 (“Deepwater Oil Rigs Lack Preparations for Disasters”) that many of the companies engaged in offshore drilling operations – a very lucrative business but one that is fraught with potentially catastrophic consequences when things go wrong – did not put in place, and weren’t required to put in place, safety measures when things do go wrong.
Not only are workers dead, but the Deepwater Horizon disaster has thousands of barrels of oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico every day. It’s hard to know where to start when tallying up the disastrous consequences of this environmental and workplace catastrophe caused by lax regulation and careless management at BP.
One place is increasing the deterrents against such indefensible corporate behavior by removing the $75 million cap on liability for companies involved in oil spills. There should be no cap at all. NCL signed a letter with other consumer groups asking to remove it. The Obama Administration has also pledged to tighten up what appears to have been a dangerously cozy relationship between regulators and the oil industry. This includes the Coast Guard and the Minerals Management Service, resulting in permits being given to companies to drill without those companies having to go through the usual process of documenting how they intended to ensure both worker and environmental safety.
Numerous congressional hearings are scheduled on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig disaster in the coming weeks. And Senator Joseph Lieberman (D-CT), who chairs the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and will preside at several of the hearings, has said there will be no more permits issued for offshore drilling until the proper safety measures are in place. It’s sad that it takes a tragedy like this – and 11 innocent workers’ lives – to get regulators and companies to do what they should have done all along: put in place basic safety precaution that would have prevented this catastrophe.