Special Reports

Florida, Manatee officials caution on spill health issues

MANATEE — So far the effects of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill are hundreds of miles from Manatee County.

“Hopefully it stays that way,” said, Capt. Larry Leinhauser, the county’s public safety spokesman.

Yet county and state officials want the public to understand the health and safety issues involved in the event that changes.

On Monday, the Florida Department of Health produced a list of tips in response to frequently asked questions by the public about the oil spill.

DOH pointers include:

n Avoid entering areas where oil can be seen or smelled.

n Avoid direct contact with oil, oil-contaminated water and sediments.

n Do not fish in oil spill-affected waters.

“At this time, there are no indications of any health risks to Floridians due to the Deepwater Horizon incident,” said State Surgeon General Ana Viamonte Ros, M.D., M.P.H., in a statement Monday. “DOH and Florida Department of Environmental Protection are closely monitoring health and environmental impacts to Florida’s beaches and will issue an advisory if conditions become unsafe.”

Occasional brief contact with a small amount of oil is generally not harmful, the DOH statement said. But some people are sensitive to chemicals found in crude oil and petroleum products.

Leinhauser reiterated as much.

“Basically, you don’t want to handle crude oil,” he said. “Besides it being very difficult to remove from your person, it also contains some pretty strong toxins.

“We haven’t been impacted. There’s nothing to react on yet. Hopefully, there won’t be.”

That hasn’t stopped people from calling the county to volunteer in case of an oil spill cleanup.

“There have been a lot,” said Nick Azzara, county government spokesman. According to an e-mail from Melissa Cain Nell, manager for the volunteer/education division of Manatee County’s natural resources department, the most common requests have been for positions “to assist with shoreline cleanup and wildlife aid should oil from Deepwater Horizon incident reach Manatee County’s shores.”

Leinhauser cautioned potential volunteers such a cleanup presents unique problems.

“We appreciate their willingness to help out, but it’s not that simple. BP is putting down some strong stipulations that there have to be trained volunteers. It’s not like cleaning up after a hurricane,” he said.“We wouldn’t want untrained volunteers out there cleaning up hazardous material.”

That training requires a four-hour course administered by the state.

“Depending on where the impacts are, that state would run that specialized training,” Azzara said. “There’s nothing in the Tampa Bay region yet.”

Volunteers can go online at www.volunteerfloridadisaster.org.