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    Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Could Affect Health

    Gulf Coast Oil Slick Could Have Impact on Seafood and Air Quality

    Impact on Air Quality continued...

    So far, she says, the odor is light and transient.

    There has been other reassuring news regarding air quality, White tells WebMD. "There has been air monitoring along the coastline and that didn't pick up anything so far."

    Touching the oil can cause skin irritation and burning, she says. "Standing next to it and not touching it will not cause any problems."

    As far as drinking water concerns, there are none. "The Gulf of Mexico is a saltwater body, not a freshwater source, so drinking water contamination is not an issue," she says.

    Seafood Contamination

    The risk of contaminated seafood reaching consumers is also relatively low, she says. "Fisherman won't be allowed to collect seafood in any area with an oil spill, so seafood caught will come from other areas."

    "Any birds that are around the oil spill are susceptible to harm because oil can coat their feathers and then they can't fly or feed," she says. "We always hear people say 'if it's hurting the birds, it is hurting me,' but this is a different phenomenon," White explains. "It is the physical effects of oil coating as opposed to the toxic effects of chemical poisoning."

    In general, "most oils spills have more ecological effects than human health effects," she says.

    Things may get worse before they get better, says Jonathan Erdman, an editorial meteorologist at the Weather Channel in Atlanta.

    There will be several days of winds directing this oil slick toward land, he predicts. And "this is exactly what they don't need," he tells WebMD. "Basically next to a landfall, tropical storm or hurricane, this is the worst-case scenario."

    "We would like to see northwest winds to keep the oil slick offshore and keep the smell away from the coast," he says. This is the opposite of what is actually occurring; southeast winds are transporting oil and odor toward the Gulf Coast.

    According to what Erdman has heard from local meteorological colleagues, it is being treated like a poor air quality day in the middle of summer in Houston or Atlanta. "The message is if you are sensitive to air quality and have respiratory issues, stay indoors, keep the air conditioner on and the windows shut," he says.

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