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Factsheet on HHS Response to Deepwater Oil Spill, July 2, 2010

Fact Sheet: Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill  -- HHS Efforts

July 2, 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.

  • The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have released the protocol that will be 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 and NOAA are actively monitoring fish caught just outside of closed federal areas, and testing them for both petroleum compounds and dispersants, to ensure that closed areas are sufficiently protective so that tainted fish do not enter the marketplace.
  • 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) for questions or concerns about seafood or to report any seafood suspected of being contaminated with oil.
  • FDA deployed one of its mobile labs to the Gulf Coast to conduct prescreening analysis of seafood samples being collected from state waters to increase the laboratory capacity available to states. Results of the seafood testing and sampling times and locations will be made available to the public as soon as possible.
  • The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (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 are available to work with states and communities as they provide programs, services, and consultation to mitigate the behavioral health impact and restore the Gulf Coast.
  • The National Institute of Environmental Health Science, 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. Through this program, NIEHS provided nearly immediate assistance to the oil spill response to protect the health of oil spill workers. Program director Chip Hughes and his team have a continuous presence in Louisiana, working with Coast Guard and BP officials as well as local and state officials, academic institutions, and other federal agencies to provide worker safety training.  As of June 29, according to BP, approximately 49,948 people throughout the Gulf Coast had completed the NIEHS 2-hour and 4-hour Safety and Health Awareness courses, and more than 1,000 people in the Gulf Coast region had completed the 40-hour Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response (HAZWOPER) training.
  • 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 (OSHA) 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 monitoring workers involved in the clean-up effort: identifying job duties and locations, training, and personal protective equipment used.  This will be used to track worker health over time. So far information from approximately 27,000 workers has been entered into NIOSH system.
  • NIOSH also receives a daily summary of reported cases of work-related illness and injury from BP’s occupational health system. No major incidents have been reported, and most cases reported to date are minor injuries requiring only first aid.
  • Since June 1, 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., has seen more than 300 patients. Of patients encountered by the NDMS/USPHS medical team, 36.3% were seen for respiratory conditions, 15% for dermatological conditions, 7.3% for ocular and ear conditions, 7.6% for gastrointestinal conditions, and 1.5% 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 state findings are posted on the CDC website.
  • Oil-spill related health information for coastal residents, responders, healthcare providers and the general public can be found at