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Captain Meredith Austin, Coast Guard deputy incident commander, says the seven Vessels of Opportunity (VO) crewmembers (who were rushed to West Jefferson Memorial Hospital yesterday after experiencing nausea, dizziness, headaches and chest pains while performing offshore oil cleanup operations) were not given any respiratory protection.

Austin says air monitoring was performed in the area, and "We were not putting any vessels in an area where no respiratory protection would be needed. They were given protective equipment for hazards they would face — Tyvek suits to protect against oil exposure on skin, steel toed boots, life jackets, gloves, hard hats, safety glasses."

Who performed the air quality tests?

"I’ll have to get back to you. I’m fairly certain they’re sending the samples out to an accredited lab. I’m not sure who that lab is."

Austin also does not know if the boats were equipped were air monitoring devices, or if crewmembers had any health evaluations before beginning cleanup.

"Our toxicologists have said it’s possible just by being around petroleum, some individuals are sensitive to it and can give them similar symptoms without a chemical exposure.

"It’s important to keep in mind there are other factors which may be potentially cause these symptoms. These factors range from fatigue, working in hot weather, dehydration, and even the smell of petroleum from the spill may affect some individuals. Not saying this to discount what’s happening to our people, and our hearts and thoughts are with them, but I just want to point out there are other factors that cause those sorts of symptoms."

Controlled burns and aerial dispersants were used yesterday, but no dispersants were used within 50 miles of the affected crewmen. Other crews are now receiving "wellness briefing" and "situational awareness training." All vessels working in the area of the affected crewmen — Group One in Breton Sound, consisting of 125 commercial fishing vessels turned oil cleanup crews — were docked and sent to temporary accommodations in Breton Sound. There are now no cleanup crews in the area.

BP and the Coast Guard are performing air sampling, checking food and water, and interviewing crewmembers to find out what caused the symptoms, Austin says.


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