GULF OF MEXICO — Twenty-nine workers hired for oil spill recovery tasks have complained along with 42 others of diverse ailments including nausea, vomiting and flu-like symptoms since May 2, state health officials reported yesterday.
Several of those complaining of problems were treated and released and others quickly felt better, Louisiana’s Health Department reported.
The health department said workers reporting medical complaints included nine with unspecified cleanup duties, seven breaking up sheen, four in offshore work, two burning oil and three deploying boom.
Another 21 people complained of ailments while working on oil rigs — 16 on one rig and five on another — and told doctors they were exposed to dispersants, according to the Department of Health and Hospitals.
The remaining 21, including 13 who called poison control centers but apparently did not see doctors said they were on shore — 20 of them at home — and felt ill after smelling oil or chemicals.
Doctors could not verify the exposures reported, according to the study posted on the DHH website.
A news release said the department has asked doctors and medical facilities to report all illnesses and injuries believed related to the oil spill so public health workers can investigate. It also used information from seven hospital emergency rooms in the metro New Orleans area.
It said no medical complaints were reported the week of the spill or the week after that. The first six were reported during the second week after the spill that began May 2.
The week after that brought another 31, including all 21 rig workers.
Sixteen workers on one rig suffered nausea, vomiting and flu-like symptoms on May 13, the report said. It said most of the rig workers were feeling better by the time they got to a clinic in Plaquemines Parish; all were treated and released.
Another five rig workers were treated and released May 15 at a Lafayette clinic after complaining of “irritative symptoms.” The report did not give details, but skin, eye and lung irritation are common symptoms of chemical exposure.
The seven workers who had been “busting oil sheen for two weeks” were admitted May 26 at West Jefferson Hospital — the only hospital identified in the report. The hospital, in suburban New Orleans, has said it has treated four others, including two who had been burning oil offshore.
Of the 21 people who neither worked offshore or in the cleanup, 10 were from New Orleans, four from St. Tammany Parish, three from Plaquemines Parish and two each from Terrebonne and St. Bernard parishes.
The report also says that the percentage of asthma and upper respiratory complaints in the metro-area emergency departments is the lowest in four years.