Monday, July 19, 2010

Gulf Oil Spill Information for Pregnant Women

I'm pregnant. Can the oil harm me or my unborn baby?

Although the oil may contain some chemicals that could cause harm to an unborn baby under some conditions, the CDC has reviewed sampling data from the EPA and feels that the levels of these chemicals are well below the level that could generally cause harm to pregnant women or their unborn babies. The effects that chemicals might have on a pregnant woman and her unborn baby would depend on many things: how the mother came into contact with the oil, how long she was in contact with it, how often she came into contact with it, and the overall health of the mother and her baby.

People, including pregnant women, can be exposed to these chemicals by breathing them (air), by swallowing them (water, food), or by touching them (skin). If possible, everyone, including pregnant women, should avoid the oil and spill-affected areas. Generally, a pregnant woman will see or smell the chemicals in oil before those chemicals can hurt her or the baby.

What can I do to protect myself and my unborn baby?

  • If you live along the coast, avoid areas where there are reports of oil reaching the shore.
  • If the smell bothers you or you see smoke, stay indoors, set your air conditioner to reuse indoor air, and avoid physical activities that put extra demand on your lungs and heart.
  • If you find any oil, avoid touching it, as well as oil spill-affected water and sand.
  • If some of the oil gets on your skin, wash it off as soon as you can with soap and water.
  • If you begin to feel sick after coming into contact with the oil or spill-affected areas, contact your doctor or other health professional.
  • Follow local and state public health guidelines and warnings related to the oil spill .

Can the air make me sick?

Although the oil vapors may contain some things that could be harmful to pregnant women, the CDC has reviewed sampling data from the EPA and feels that the levels of these chemicals are well below the level that could generally cause harm to pregnant women or their unborn babies.

Smell

Pregnant women may be affected by the strong smell. It can give you a headache or upset stomach, so you may want to stay indoors, set your air conditioner to reuse indoor air, and avoid physical activities that put extra demand on your lungs and heart. If your symptoms do not improve after moving indoors, contact your health care professional, especially if you have asthma or other lung problems.

If you have to be outside, a N95 respirator with an odor control feature may provide some relief from the smell. Based on what we know now, you do not need to use a N95 respirator for your safety, but using one may make you more comfortable. Most hardware stores stock respirators (you should check the label to make sure the mask is a NIOSH certified N95 respirator with odor control or a charcoal layer). Follow the manufacturer's instructions carefully to be sure you are using the mask properly.

Burning oil

Burning the oil in the Gulf of Mexico is one method being used to ensure that no oil make it to shore and/or to potentially harm people, animals or the environment. As responders burn some of the oil, some “Particulate Matter” (PM) may be created. PM is a mix of very small particles and liquid droplets found in the air. PM varies in size and the smallest PM can get deep into your lungs. PM should not reach the shore because the fires are far offshore. When crews burn the spilled oil they carefully watch the weather, wind, and water conditions and monitor the air. They stop the burn right away if there is any problem.

If you smell or see smoke you can take the following steps to protect yourself:

  • 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. Talk to your doctor about ways to avoid this 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.

Is the water safe?

Drinking water is not expected to be affected by the spill. If you have any concerns about your water, contact your water utility company.

Swimming in water affected by the oil spill will be unpleasant and could cause harm. For now, pregnant women should avoid zones where there are reports of oil reaching the shore. It is important to stay away from any oil that reaches the shore because coming into close contact with the oil for long periods of time could cause harm. Avoid touching any of the oil you find, as well as oil-stained water and sand. If some of the oil gets on your skin, wash it off as soon as you can with soap and water. If you notice rashes or dark sticky spots on your skin even after you’ve washed the area of skin that came in contact with the oil, consult your doctor or other health care professional.

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.

Is it safe for me to eat fish or seafood from the Gulf of Mexico?

As a precaution, fishing areas affected by the spill are closed to fishing and oyster collection, for both personal and commercial use. Any seafood available in stores comes from non-closed waters. Seafood that is unsafe will not be allowed in stores.

What are oil dispersants and are they harmful to me?

Oil spill dispersants are applied to break an oil slick into small droplets and prevent the oil from coming back together. It is unlikely that coastal residents will come into contact with undiluted dispersants, which are used out in the Gulf. It is possible that diluted dispersants could reach the coast in the air or the water. EPA is monitoring the air and water along the shore for dispersants and has not detected any at levels that could be a threat to you or your child.

Some of the chemicals in the dispersants can cause harm to people under some conditions, which is why the use of dispersants is carefully controlled and monitored. Pregnant women should avoid contact with dispersants or any other potentially harmful chemical, if possible. For most people, brief contact with a small amount of oil spill dispersants will do no harm. However, longer contact can cause a rash, dry skin, and eye irritation. In the unlikely event of breathing them in or swallowing them, other health effects, such as nausea, vomiting, and throat and lung irritation are possible. If you are concerned that you have been exposed to oil spill dispersants, contact your doctor or other health care professional.

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