In an effort to keep more oil from the Deepwater Horizon leak from reaching land, the federal government has authorized BP to set a portion of collected oil on fire. The burning began today.
“When ignited, the boom transformed the oil into a roaring mass of flames as high as 150 feet and a column of smoke of biblical proportions,” according to the Huffington Post.
Burning large amounts of oil creates toxic gas air pollution. The rising black clouds contain sulfur dioxide and carbon monoxide, which can be hazardous to humans in high concentrations.
BP has done approximately 200 controlled burns since the disaster began nearly 2 months ago.
Symptoms of toxicity include coughing, irritation of the eyes and lungs, rashes, headaches and nausea. Young children and the elderly are more susceptible to health risks that may be caused by pollution from burning the oil spill.
The Environmental Protection Agency has been monitoring air quality and expects air pollution hazards will likely increase as more oil is burned.
Winds blowing in a westerly direction, toward the Tampa Bay area can increase the risk of air pollution from the burning oil.
Pollution reports from the EPA for all affected areas are updated regularly on their website.
Oil spill safety tips
The American Association of Poison Control Centers and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers the following tips to those exposed to oil, chemical dispersants or other toxins associated with the Gulf oil spill:
Fumes and the oil spill:
If oil is close to the coastline, people may be able to smell the oil spill from the shore. This odor may cause irritation of the eyes, nose, throat, and skin. People with asthma or other respiratory ailments may be more sensitive to the effects of inhaled fumes.
If you smell oily odors, limit your exposure by staying indoors with windows closed and air conditioner set to recirculating mode. During this period, also avoid physical activities that put extra demands on your lungs and heart. If you experience severe incidents of nausea, shortness of breath or chest pain, or other medical issues, call your poison center at 1-800-222-1222.
For more information about fumes, go to this website:http://www.epa.gov/iaq/voc.html.
On the shoreline:
Avoid entering areas where oil can be seen.
Avoid direct skin contact with oil, oil-contaminated water and sediments.
Do not swim or ski in areas affected by the oil spill, and if traveling through the area by boat, take precautions when hoisting the boat anchor. If oil makes contact with skin, wash it off with soap and water.
Do not fish in oil spill-affected waters.
Do not harvest or eat dead fish, fish with oily residue or fish that have a petroleum odor.
Avoid boating through oil slicks or sheens.
Young children, pregnant women, people with compromised immune systems, and individuals with underlying respiratory conditions should avoid the area.
Prevent pets from entering oil-contaminated areas.
Stay tuned to your local radio and other news outlets. If conditions worsen and air quality seems to decline, you will be notified to take additional precautions by federal and state agencies.
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