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CDC Responds to the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill

August 11, 2010

UPDATE: This information is current as of August 11, 2010 at 5:00pm EDT

CDC and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recognize the importance of anticipating, monitoring and responding to any potential public health hazards that may affect human health. Currently, 282 CDC and ATSDR staff members are involved in the response, including 14 staff members who are deployed to Gulf Coast states. CDC is monitoring potential health threats or conditions across the five Gulf States that may arise as a result of human exposure to the oil spill. We are in constant communication with state and local health departments and will quickly support and respond to any emerging health threats.

What CDC Is Doing

Surveillance for Health Threats - 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. CDC is using two established national surveillance systems, the National Poison Data System (NPDS) and BioSense. These surveillance systems are being used to track symptoms related to the eyes, skin, respiratory, cardiovascular, gastrointestinal and neurological systems, including worsening of asthma, 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.

A team from the National Center of Environmental Health/ Division of Environmental Hazards and Health Effects and the Office of Surveillance, Epidemiology, and Laboratory Services has gone to Alabama at the request of the state to conduct an assessment of current surveillance activities, identify gaps, and make recommendations for enhancements.

Worker Safety - CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) is using information to protect workers and volunteers from potential safety and health hazards related to the spill and clean up efforts. CDC is sharing its health information with industry, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the U.S. Coast Guard, and other federal and state agencies. NIOSH is also helping OSHA and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) with technical assistance for training response workers.

NIOSH is collaborating with BP Safety and OSHA compliance personnel to coordinate the collection and analysis of injury and illness data BP is reporting to OSHA. NIOSH is also 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 51,000 responders (BP-trained, volunteer, vessel of opportunity operators, and federal workers) have been rostered. Rostering is done 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 that is 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.

CDC is also conducting a Health Hazard Evaluation Program to investigate the decontamination of boom and other materials used in the cleanup response. Once conducted, the findings from this HHE will be posted to the NIOSH website. Three interim reports have already been posted from earlier phases of the Health Hazard Evaluation, in which other response operations were examined.

Data Analysis CDC’s Environmental Health Team continues to review environmental data packages from the Gulf of Mexico in coordination with the Environmental Protection Agency. CDC is reviewing the sampling of data to determine whether exposure to oil, oil constituents, or dispersants might cause short term or long term health effects. These data include sampling results for air, water, soil/sediment, and waste oil samples (material actually reaching the beach or marsh).

The levels of some of the pollutants that have been reported may cause temporary eye, nose, or throat irritation, nausea, or headaches. At this time, scientists do not believe that the current levels are high enough to cause long-term harm. However, CDC is working closely with the EPA to analyze data and will quickly inform the public if harmful levels are detected.

EPA and CDC will continue to monitor the air, water, and soil/sediment. If we begin to find levels that might be of health concern, we will update the public. For up-to-date information on air quality and monitoring data along the Gulf Coast, please see

For More Information

Learn More About Health Concerns after the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill

Learn More About the Public Health Role in Disaster Response

CDC Responds to the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill: Archives

  • Page last reviewed August 11, 2010
  • Page last updated August 11, 2010
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