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Deepwater Oil Spill, July 23, 2010

HHS Efforts Fact Sheet

July 23, 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 (SAMHSA), returned to the Gulf this week to meet with members of the medical community in Louisiana, cleanup workers and residents to discuss physical, behavioral and mental health issues in the Gulf. She was joined this week by Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response Dr. Nicole Lurie and the Secretary’s Representative to the National Incident Command Center Read Admiral James Galloway.
  • 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. To assist, SAMHSA developed a series of tip sheets on mental health issues and translated the tip sheets into six languages.
  • On July 22, 26,388 square miles of Gulf waters were reopened to commercial and recreational fishing using a protocol agreed upon by the Food and Drug Administration and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and authorities in the Gulf States 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 the fish for both petroleum compounds and dispersants, to ensure that closed areas are large enough to prevent harvesting of contaminated fish.
  • 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.. Four more teams of NIEHS trainers were certified in July and are now delivering various BP training modules in Louisiana; Mobile, Alabama; and Key West, Florida. Examples of the training being provided include 4-hour courses for workers doing on shore cleanup activities, additional training to Vessel of Opportunity workers and safety briefings for dock workers. To date, more than 100,000 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 on selection/use of personal protective equipment where needed. CDC has also issued recommendations on preventing West Nile virus, heat stress, traumatic stress, and fatigue.
  • NIOSH has rostered more than 45,000 responders through a voluntary system at the staging areas to which workers report daily and during worker training, and through an electronic version of the form posted on a secure web site. NIOSH has provided the link to multiple federal agencies and BP, and has asked them to refer workers to the web site to complete the rostering form electronically.
  • NIOSH is conducting a health hazard evaluation of Deepwater Horizon Response workers at BP’s request. The second in a series of interim reports from this ongoing evaluation, including NIOSH recommendations, is at . In this second interim report, NIOSH found that the majority (71%) of workers’ medical conditions required only first aid and/or over-the-counter medication. NIOSH also reviewed data from a controlled burn and found that workers who were near the burn reported the same types of symptoms as workers who were not in the area at the time of the controlled burn although workers near the controlled burn reported symptoms more often. In addition, NIOSH evaluated a barge oil vacuuming operation and based on the evaluation, NIOSH experts recommended that workers be provided adequate fall protection and use it correctly, that they use ear plugs and/or ear muffs if they are near vacuum or pile driving operations, and that workers take steps to avoid bone and muscle problems from working in awkward positions.
  • NIOSH also 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 21, 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 479 patients, 34% for respiratory conditions (including acute respiratory conditions and exacerbations of chronic conditions), 14.2% for skin conditions, 6.7% for eye and ear conditions, 6.9% 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 regularly share data and summaries. A summary of surveillance systems findings are posted at As CDC receives data on the changing developments and potential health needs along the Gulf Coast, the Emergency and Preparedness Response team has added a web link with posts on “What’s New” at:
  • Oil-spill related health information for coastal residents, responders, healthcare providers and the general public can be found at and HHS division websites. Information is available in multiple targeted languages to address human health concerns related to the Gulf Coast oil spill. The latest update is Gulf Coast Information for Parents translated into Spanish at: