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Gulf Coast Beach Safety


For those with vacation plans on the Gulf Coast, the oil spill is understandably a cause for questions and concerns, and the Red Cross has some safety and health tips for people who are going to the area.

The following Red Cross guidelines are from the Advisory Council on First Aid and Safety and Preparedness (ACFASP), a Red Cross group of experts.

Know Before You Go Any beach trip involves possible hazards, including rip currents, stormy weather, and high concentrations of animals such as jellyfish and sharks. The oil spill simply adds another potential hazard to that list.

If you're planning to go to a beach or water area possibly affected by the oil spill, consult local and state resources to see if the area is experiencing contamination. You can also read or listen to information from local media broadcasts or Web sites.

Beach Safety

  • Stay out of closed or contaminated areas. Whenever possible, stay in swimming areas supervised by trained lifeguards.
  • If you see tar balls or other possible oil products on the beach, notify authorities and avoid direct physical contact with the substance. In most cases it's appropriate to use non-emergency contact numbers instead of dialing 9-1-1.
  • Don't try to rescue a contaminated animal unless you're specially trained and have adequate protective gear. Notify authorities if you see any animals in distress.
  • If you notice possible oil in the water, leave the water immediately.

Contact with Oil Products—What to Do

  • Leave the contaminated environment and wash yourself thoroughly with fresh water and soap, mild detergent or a product designed to remove oil or grease from skin. Water alone isn't enough.
  • Remove and place contaminated clothing and swim or dive gear into plastic bags and wash them thoroughly with fresh water and detergent.
  • Don't launder contaminated clothing with other clothing.
  • Throw away anything you can't get clean.

Health Issues In many cases, leaving the area and removing all traces of contamination will resolve mild health symptoms.

Seek urgent medical attention if you experience acute shortness of breath, significant coughing, facial or throat swelling, nausea or vomiting or a significant rash after being exposed to oil products. Inform medical personnel of any possible exposure to oil products.

Infants, children, the elderly and those with respiratory issues or open wounds are more likely to suffer medical problems due to exposure to oil products. It's best that they stay out of any possibly contaminated areas.

What is the Red Cross Role? The ongoing oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico is causing widespread concern about the potential impact for the region’s economy, wildlife, homes and shore line. As a result, many states and communities are beginning to mobilize volunteer and government resources. The American Red Cross is working with federal, state and local government partners on ways in which we can support the needs of affected communities. Right now, the Red Cross is planning for that support role, should our government partners request help.

In this situation, Red Cross activities are expected to look similar to what the public has come to expect during any disaster, with our focus on sheltering people evacuated from their homes and supporting responders with food, first aid and mental health.

The Red Cross understands that certain communities may have unique needs or requests for help, and that will figure into our planning efforts as this situation continues to evolve.

The Red Cross is ramping up preparations for what is predicted to be a very active and dangerous hurricane season, especially along the Gulf Coast where the oil spill could cause people to evacuate for an even longer period. At the same time, we are actively responding to wildfires, tornadoes, floods and other disasters from Arizona to Montana to Arkansas. The Red Cross is accepting donations to its Disaster Relief Fund to support these efforts.

For information about the Gulf of Mexico spill, visit the Deepwater Horizon Response Web site.