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Gulf Oil Spill 2010: Information for Parents

Can the oil harm my child?
Although the oil may contain some chemicals that could cause harm to children, at this time we expect the levels of these chemicals to be well below the level that could cause harm. The effects would depend on things like how children have come into contact with the oil, how much contact they have had with the oil, and if they have conditions such as asthma. As with any potentially harmful substance, children should avoid contact with the oil, including playing in oil-affected areas. See below for tips to protect your child.

The Environment Protection Agency (EPA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are working together to continue monitoring the levels of oil and oil dispersants in the environment. If we begin to find levels that are likely to be harmful, we will tell the public. For up-to-date information on monitoring data along the Gulf Coast, please visit EPA’s website.


What can I do to protect my child?

  • Prevent your children from playing in or around areas where oil has reached the shore, and from taking part in cleanup efforts. 
  • If you live along the coast, avoid areas where there are reports of oil reaching the shore.
  • If the smell bothers you or your child or you see smoke, stay indoors and watch closely for problems with their breathing. If you have an air conditioner, set it to reuse indoor air.
  • If your child finds any oil, tell them to avoid touching it, as well as oil spill-affected water and sand.
  • If some of the oil gets on your child’s skin, wash it off with soap and water or cleansers that remove oils and grease as soon as you can. Do not use solvents or chemicals when washing your child’s skin as these can be more harmful than the oil itself.
  • If your child begins to feel sick after coming into contact with the oil or spill-affected areas, contact your child’s doctor or other health professional.
  • Follow local and state public health guidelines and warnings related to the oil spill, see links to resources below.


Can the air make my child sick?
Although the oil fumes may contain some things that could be harmful to children, at this time we expect the level of fumes in the air will be well below the level that could cause harm. However, your child may be sensitive to smells or chemicals in the air, especially if your child is an infant or toddler, or has a health condition such as asthma or other breathing or lung problems.

As it can with adults, the smell can give children headaches or upset stomachs, so you may want to keep them indoors, set the air conditioner to reuse indoor air, and watch closely for problems with their breathing. If their symptoms do not improve after moving indoors, contact your child’s doctor or other health care professional, especially if they have asthma or other lung problems or if they are having trouble breathing.


Is it safe for my child to swim in the water or play on the beach?
For now, children should avoid swimming and playing in areas where there are reports of oil reaching the shore. Coming into close contact with the oil for long periods of time could cause harm. If you are in an oil spill-affected area, tell your child not to touch anything that looks black, brown, shiny, sticky, gooey or clumped together.

CDC recommends that people follow local and state public health guidelines and warnings related to the use of beaches and coastal water for recreational activities and fishing. The EPA is collecting samples of water along the coast to estimate the effects on fish, wildlife, and human health. Visit the EPA’s website for the most up-to-date information on water sampling results.


What are oil dispersants and are they harmful to children?
While we do not know the health effects of all the chemicals in the oil dispersants, children should avoid contact with them. Oil spill dispersants are applied to break an oil slick into small droplets and prevent the oil from coming back together. Dispersed oil droplets are less likely to stick to wildlife, rocks, and plant life.

For most people, brief contact with a small amount of oil spill dispersants will do no harm. However, longer contact can cause a rash, dry skin, and eye irritation. In the unlikely event of breathing them in or swallowing them, other health effects, such as nausea, vomiting, and throat and lung irritation are possible. If you are concerned that your child has been exposed to oil spill dispersants, contact your child’s doctor or other health care professional. For more information on oil dispersants, please visit this CDC website.


State Resources

  • Alabama - Alabama Department of Public Health
  • Florida - Florida Gulf Oil Spill page
  • Louisiana - Latest news from Louisiana about Gulf Oil spill
  • Mississippi - State Department of Health Gulf Oil Spill information
  • Texas - News updates from Texas Department of State Health Services


Federal Resources

Contact Us:
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