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Factsheet on HHS Response to Deepwater Oil Spill, July 16, 2010

Fact Sheet: Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill -- HHS Efforts

July 16, 2010


  • The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is taking actions to prevent injury, illness and exposure to hazardous substances among response personnel and the general public, monitor the short- and long-term potential health impacts of oil and dispersant, and ensure the safety of seafood from areas affected by the oil disaster.
  • As part of our continuing efforts to address the many health impacts of the oil spill, HHS is addressing the mental health issues that may arise after this type of disaster. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin and Pam Hyde, Administrator of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, visited the Gulf this week to meet with state and local authorities in health and mental health, cleanup workers, and business owners to discuss mental health issues in the Gulf. Dr. Benjamin also recorded radio Public Service Announcements on mental health, providing local crisis hotlines, which have been distributed throughout the Gulf region. SAMHSA developed tip sheets for various communities on dealing with mental health issues. The PSAs and tip sheets are available at and
  • SAMHSA is coordinating with disaster relief officials, public health authorities and behavioral health service providers in each of the impacted states, providing technical assistance and other support to help assess and meet the mental health needs of affected communities. Mental health experts from SAMHSA will continue to support these states and communities as they provide programs, services, and consultation to mitigate the behavioral health impact and restore the Gulf.
  • The Food and Drug Administration and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are actively monitoring fish caught just outside of closed federal areas and testing the fish for both petroleum compounds and dispersants, to ensure that closed areas are large enough to prevent harvesting of contaminated fish. FDA, NOAA, and state authorities agreed upon and released the protocol used by federal and state officials to determine when it is safe for the waters closed in response to the oil spill to be reopened to seafood harvesting.
  • FDA investigators are inspecting primary seafood processors along the Gulf Coast to ensure that they are complying with the requirement that they have controls in place to guard against chemical contaminants in the seafood they process. The FDA has a toll-free number (888-INFO-FDA; 888-463-6332) for questions or concerns about seafood or to report any seafood suspected of being contaminated with oil.
  • To increase the laboratory capacity available to states, FDA deployed one of its mobile labs to the Gulf Coast to conduct prescreening analysis of seafood samples collected from state waters. Results of the seafood testing and sampling times and locations will be made available to the public as soon as possible.
  • The National Institute of Environmental Health Science (NIEHS), part of the National Institutes of Health, administers the Worker Education and Training Program, which for 24 years has provided safety training to emergency responders and the hazardous materials workforce. NIEHS continues to expand its safety training efforts. Two trainers from Clark Atlanta University traveled to Key West, Fla., to provide a 4-hour training course to workers doing on shore cleanup activities. NIEHS teams are now providing additional training to Vessel of Opportunity workers and assisting field safety officers in providing safety briefings in Louisiana and Mobile, Ala. To date, more than 50,000 people throughout the Gulf Coast have completed a NIEHS training program. NIEHS has distributed more than 8,000 “Safety and Health Awareness for Oil Spill Cleanup Workers” guides to front-line responders, instructors and safety officials.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued interim guidance for protecting the health and safety of the responders in the Gulf, including recommendations on preventing heat stress, preventing traumatic stress, preventing fatigue, and selection/use of personal protective equipment where needed.
  • NIOSH is conducting a voluntary survey (roster) of workers participating in the response to create a record and a mechanism to contact these workers about spill-related symptoms of illness or injury, if it becomes necessary. More than 38,700 responders (BP-trained, volunteer, vessel of opportunity operators, and federal workers) have been rostered.
  • NIOSH produces a periodic report of injury and illness among Deepwater Horizon response workers based on safety incidents recorded by safety officials from the BP/Unified Command.  The report uses a standard occupational health coding system (OIICS) to describe the nature and location of injury and illness recorded by safety officials as well as other important variables, such as whether the injury or illness was OSHA-reportable. Injury trends and other significant health and safety issues are highlighted in a summary.  A regular report of this data is available at
  • As of July 16, a 5-person medical team from the National Disaster Medical System and U.S. Public Health Service, which is staffing a mobile medical unit in Venice, La., had seen 421 patients, 34.4% for respiratory conditions (including acute respiratory conditions and exacerbations of chronic conditions), 14.3% for skin conditions, 6.9% for eye and ear conditions, 7.4% for gastrointestinal conditions, and 1.2% for heat-related injuries.
  • CDC, in coordination with state and local health departments, is conducting surveillance across the five Gulf States for health effects related to the oil spill using established national surveillance systems, including the National Poison Data System (NPDS) and BioSense. These systems are being used to monitor for respiratory, cardiovascular, ocular, dermal, gastrointestinal, and neurological symptoms, including asthma exacerbation, cough, chest pain, eye irritation, nausea, and headache. States and CDC are regularly sharing data and summaries with each other. A summary of findings from these surveillance systems are posted at
  • Oil-spill related health information for coastal residents, responders, healthcare providers and the general public can be found at