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Health Information for Coastal Residents

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Click the map for CDC health
surveillance information for Alabama,
Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi

Individual Health

Each person will react differently to the personal and financial stress created by the spill. Seek professional help if you need it.

People can be exposed to the chemicals in oil by breathing them (air), by swallowing them (water, food), or by touching them (skin). If possible, everyone should avoid the oil and spill-affected areas.

Crude Oil and Dispersants

For most people, brief contact with small amounts of light crude oil and oil spill dispersants will do no harm. However, longer contact can cause a rash and dry skin. Dispersants can also irritate your eyes. Breathing or swallowing dispersants can also cause health effects.

If you are concerned that you have been exposed to oil or dispersants, see your doctor.

Air Quality

  • Smell: People may be able to smell the oil spill from the shore. The odor comes from chemicals in the oil that people can smell at levels well below those that would make most people sick. However, exposure to low levels of these chemicals may cause irritation of the eyes, nose, throat, and skin. People with asthma or other lung diseases may be more sensitive to these effects.
  • Burning oil: When responders burn some of the oil, some “Particulate Matter” (PM) may reach the shore. PM is a mix of very small particles and liquid droplets found in the air. PM may pose a greater risk for people who have a chronic condition such as asthma or heart disease.

If you smell gas or see smoke or know that fires are nearby, stay indoors, set your air conditioner to reuse indoor air, and avoid physical activities that put extra demands on your lungs and heart.

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Water Quality

Drinking water and household water are not expected to be affected by the spill. The closest drinking water intake in use in Southeastern Louisiana on the Mississippi River is 49 miles upstream from the mouth of the river. The oil is not expected to migrate that far upstream. The oil sheen is not expected to impact private wells. If you have any concerns about your water, you should contact your local water utility.

Water used for recreation may be affected. Swimming in water contaminated with chemicals from the oil spill could cause health effects.

Follow local and state public health guidelines and warnings about the use of beaches and coastal water for swimming, boating, and fishing. More information about beach safety

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Food Safety

Although crude oil has the potential to taint seafood with flavors and odors caused by exposure to hydrocarbon chemicals, the public should not be concerned about the safety of seafood in stores at this time. 

Fish and shellfish harvested from areas unaffected by the closures are considered safe to eat.

Call 1-888-INFO-FDA (1-888-463-6332) with questions or concerns about seafood or to report any seafood you have purchased that you suspect of being contaminated with oil.

Federal and state officials are monitoring the waters from which seafood is harvested and will act to close areas contaminated by the oil spill to fishing and shellfish harvesting. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has the authority to close Federal waters to commercial fishing and states have the authority to close waters within their jurisdiction.

NOAA has already closed a large area of the Gulf of Mexico to commercial fishing and some state molluscan shellfish beds have been closed in anticipation of the oil nearing the shoreline. Closely monitoring and, if warranted, closing harvest waters which could be exposed to the oil spill should prevent unsafe seafood from reaching the market. If, despite these steps, adulterated seafood is found on the market, both the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the states have the authority to seize such products and remove them from the food supply.

FDA has implemented a surveillance sampling program of seafood products at Gulf Coast area primary processing plants. FDA is currently targeting oysters, crabs and shrimp, which could retain contaminants longer than finfish. This sampling will provide verification that seafood being harvested is safe to eat.

Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill Update (Food and Drug Administration) - Includes Questions & Answers (Q&As)

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