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Gulf oil spill: Coast Guard calls back 125 cleanup ships after reports of illness

May 26, 2010 | 10:02 pm

The U.S. Coast Guard on Wednesday ordered all ships participating in the BP oil spill cleanup in Breton Sound, La., to cease operations after crewmembers on three boats reported health problems.

Four crewmembers reported experiencing nausea, dizziness, headaches and chest pains Wednesday afternoon after working near the oil. One person was taken by air to West Jefferson Hospital in Marrero, La., another was transported to the same facility via boat. Two were transported via ambulance, according to the Joint Incident Command in Houma, La.. The other crewmembers refused treatment at the dock.

The illnesses came a day after BP reported that it had heard of no health complaints from local fishermen who had taken jobs with the company laying boom and skimming oil from the Gulf.

The Times reported that several fishermen complained of similar symptoms while working around oil and chemical dispersants. Even as the oil company dismissed the claims, a Louisiana congressman pressed a request to the federal department of Health and Human Services for assistance in placing mobile health clinics in the rural areas of south Louisiana where oystermen and shrimpers live.

As a precautionary measure, the Unified Command directed all 125 of the commercial vessels that had been outfitted with equipment for oil recovery operations in the Breton Sound area, to return to their temporary accommodations where medical personnel were being dispatched to evaluate the remaining crewmembers as an additional precaution.

"No other personnel are reporting symptoms, but we are taking this action as an extreme safeguard," said Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Robinson Cox, the assistant safety officer at Incident Command Post.

The Coast Guard, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency, and safety officers from BP are investigating the incident.

--Julie Cart