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Gulf oil spill: boat crew members remain in hospital

May 27, 2010 |  5:13 pm

Two men involved in private-boat efforts to clean the gulf oil spill remained hospitalized Thursday after falling ill while working in the waters of Breton Sound, according to hospital officials.

The U.S. Coast Guard called 125 boats involved in cleanup operations back to port after seven crewmen on four different vessels fell ill Wednesday night. Five were released after being hospitalized overnight.

Coast Guard Capt. Meredith Austin said Thursday that the workers had been issued protective clothing, booties and gloves, although none had respirators because air monitoring showed safe levels of airborne pollutants.

The fleet will remain in port pending an investigation, Austin said. In addition to the Coast Guard, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency and safety officers from BP are investigating the illnesses.

The men, ranging in age from 19 to 50, were taken to West Jefferson Medical Center in Marrero, about 15 miles south of New Orleans. The men were treated for severe headaches, dizziness, nausea and skin irritation, said hospital spokeswoman Taslin Alfonzo.

She said the emergency room physician could not determine what caused the men to become sick, but said they were exposed to a chemical-based irritant and treated with intravenous fluids to dilute any possible toxins.

A growing number of out-of-work fishermen who are taking jobs with BP laying booms or operating skimming boats are saying they become ill after being near the oil slick or dispersants. However, a BP spokesman on Wednesday said the company was unaware of any health issues associated with the cleanup.

State officials are asking the federal government to place mobile health clinics in the rural southern part of the state where fishermen live.

--Julie Cart

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