Researchers outline hazards to Gulf oil spill workers

Major areas of concern for volunteers, fishermen and cleanup workers in the Gulf Coast area include air quality, skin irritation and mental health, researchers from the University of California, San Francisco suggested in a commentary published in the Aug. 16 online edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

According to a university press release, previous oil spills in Alaska, Spain, Korea and Wales caused workers and residents to experience an increase in DNA alterations, anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, psychological stress and self-reported neurological impairment.

In the early months of the Gulf oil spill, more than 300 people -- mostly cleanup workers -- reported symptoms such as headaches, dizziness, nausea, chest pain, vomiting, cough and respiratory distress. However, air quality -- a prime concern because of volatile organic compounds -- has improved now that the leak has been stopped, the press release said.

Also this week, OSHA administrator David Michaels issued a statement warning employers to promptly issue certificates to cleanup workers for completing training under the hazardous waste operations and emergency response standard (1910.120). Michaels said OSHA has received several complaints of employers withholding certificates to prevent employees from leaving. Some complaints have been referred to the Office of Inspector General within the Department of Labor.

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