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Information for Coastal Residents


During a disaster, people may worry that the food they eat could be contaminated. To make sure the food supply is protected, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) are monitoring the oil spill and its potential impact on the safety of seafood harvested from the area. CDC is in constant communication with these agencies.

Should a health concern arise, CDC will work quickly with other federal and state agencies to make sure the public is informed.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) - Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill: Fishing Closure in Federal Waters
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) - Food Safety

Air Quality

State and federal agencies are working together to answer questions about how the oil spill and burning oil may affect air quality. ATSDR and CDC are helping U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to make sure that EPA’s air sampling plans are useful for public health protection.


People may be able to smell the oil spill from the shore.  The smell is similar to what you can smell at a gas station.  It comes from “Volatile Organic Compounds” (VOCs) in the oil.  You can smell these VOCs at levels well below those that would make you sick.  VOCs are also in the gas you burn in your car every day and can include benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, xylene and naphthalene

Exposure to low levels of VOCs may cause irritation of the eyes, nose, throat, and skin. It is possible that people with asthma may be more sensitive to the effects of inhaled VOCs.

The VOC smell may give you a headache or upset stomach, so you should stay indoors to limit your exposure, close windows and doors, and set your air conditioner to a recirculation mode. The smell may become stronger if the wind or weather change.

Burning oil

If 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. It can come from many different sources such as diesel exhaust, smoke from fuel-burning power plants, fires, and unpaved roads. PM varies in size and the smallest PM can get deep into your lungs.

PM may not reach the shore if the fires are far away. When crews burn the spilled oil they carefully watch the weather, wind, and water conditions and stop the burn right away if there is any problem.

ATSDR and CDC are helping EPA to make sure that EPA’s air sampling plans are useful for public health protection.

The EPA is monitoring air quality in the region. The maps and charts at http://gulfcoast.airnowtech.org/ show current ozone and fine particulate Air Quality Index values at air quality monitors located along the Gulf coast. These maps and charts will be updated hourly to show the most recent conditions.

If you smell or see smoke, or know that fires are nearby, you can take the following extra steps to protect yourself and your family:

Leave the area if you are at greater risk from breathing smoke. If you have a chronic respiratory condition such as asthma or cardiovascular disease, you may be at greater risk.
Limit your exposure to smoke: stay inside and use your air conditioner set to a recirculation mode. If you do not have an air conditioner you may wish to leave the area until the smoke is completely gone.
Avoid activities that put extra demands on your lungs and heart. These include exercising or physical chores, both outdoors and indoors.
Dust masks, bandanas, or other cloths (even if wet) will not protect you from smoke.


Drinking water supplies are not expected to be affected by the spill.

CDC is communicating closely with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the states as they collect water samples along affected coastlines to determine potential risks to public health and the environment. For now, CDC recommends that people follow local and state public health guidelines and warnings related to the use of beaches and coastal water for recreational activities and fishing.

CDC and ATSDR are reviewing plans for environmental sampling to ensure that public health concerns are addressed.

For more information about EPA’s sampling plan, see http://www.epa.gov/bpspill/qanda.html#dwater.
From CDC