Doctor outlines oil's potential health risks - - The News for South Mississippi

Doctor outlines oil's potential health risks


By Sylvia Hall – bio | email

PASCAGOULA, MS (WLOX) – Rick Ledbetter is one of the many South Mississippians ready to help clean the coast if oil heads our way.

"I'm a big fisherman," said Ledbetter.  "And my main concern would be how it would affect the wildlife in the area."

Ledbetter said he's willing to receive training to help get the job done, and experts want others to follow suit.  If oil washes into Mississippi waters, cleaning the beloved coast could carry some health risks.

"Any direct exposure to gas or oil could be toxic to your skin," said Dr. Randy Roth with the Singing River Health System.  "It could cause what we call Contact Dermatitis.  So if you reach down to pick up that lump of coal or clay or oil or whatever it may be, you could react. Your hand could lose some skin."

Roth also warns the fumes we've smelled in past weeks could trigger preexisting problems for some people.

"Most of the time, it's benign," Roth said.  "If you have underlying COPD, emphysema, asthma, it can trigger an exacerbation. If you're oxygen dependent, if you have a history of asthma and you start to smell something that's different and probably part of the oil spill, then you need to back away from that."

BP representatives and other cleanup officials have constantly warned people not to touch any oil that may come ashore.  Dr. Roth hopes people will heed warnings like those so that we can stay safe no matter what comes to our shoreline.

"Before you think you can help somebody out, make sure you don't do something that will hurt yourself," said Roth.

"There's going to be a lot of people that's going to jump up and want to do this," said Ledbetter.  "And maybe some of them are not aware of it-- of the health concerns involved in getting out there in this crude."

Roth said if the spill is of the anticipated magnitude, it is possible that molecules of oil in drinking water and seafood could cause problems, including cancer, years down the road.  He suggested that people take notice of any warnings of contamination that could come from governmental agencies in the future. 

At this time, water supply and seafood have not been reported to be negatively effected from the oil spill, and are considered safe.

Roth said now is not the time to panic about our health in relation to the oil spill. 

"I'm concerned, but cautiously optimistic," he said.

The following is a list of hotlines for reporting oil and volunteering.  The list was released by the City of Pascagoula late last week.

Hotline phone numbers for volunteer or service opportunities

  • Request Volunteer information: 1-866-448-5816
  • Submit your vessel as a vessel of opportunity 1-281-366-5511
  • Submit alternative response technology, services or products 1-281-366-5511
  • HAZWOPER Training: Ron Williams 228-762-0670 or 228-990-4564

Hotline phone numbers to report possible damages due to the oil spill

  • Animals covered in oil: 1-866-557-1404 (leave message)
  • Submit a claim for damages: 1-800-440-0858
  • Oil on the shoreline: 1-866-448-5816

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