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More oil workers fall sick on the job

By the CNN Wire Staff
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Workers not getting protective equipment for oil cleanup
  • At least 2 oil workers hospitalized for symptoms
  • Workers blame dispersants used in cleanup effort
  • 7 others were hospitalized earlier in the week

(CNN) -- At least two more oil spill cleanup workers have been hospitalized after feeling ill on the job, according to local shrimpers who are assisting in the recovery effort along the Gulf Coast.

The workers were taken to West Jefferson Hospital in suburban New Orleans on Saturday after complaining of nausea, headaches and dizziness after low-flying planes applied chemical dispersants within one mile of operating cleanup vessels, according to Louisiana Shrimpers Association acting President Clint Guidry.

""My shrimpers can do this job," Guidry told the reporters. "They just need the air quality monitored and they need the proper protective equipment, which is not being done.""

Guidry, a Vietnam veteran, compared the dispersants being used to combat the spill to the deadly chemical weapon, Agent Orange, and said the actions of BP, the oil company responsible for the massive spill, should land officials in jail.

"The U.S. Coast Guard should be monitoring this," he said. "Somebody needs to take control of the situation."

Earlier in the week, seven oil spill recovery workers were hospitalized in New Orleans after complaining of feeling ill. All were properly trained and had protective gear on, said Coast Guard Rear Adm. Mary Landry, the federal on-scene coordinator for the oil spill response effort in the Gulf of Mexico.

"The heat and humidity in Louisiana can be challenging," Landry told reporters Thursday afternoon.

She said the workers were treated for several symptoms, including headaches, nausea, vomiting and shortness of breath. Safety officials from the Coast Guard, BP and the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration had responded to the incident, Landry.

An investigation is under way "to make sure what we can do to ensure that these workers are all working in safe conditions," Landry said. "We will continue to monitor this situation very carefully so that nobody is put in harm's way as they respond to this spill," she added.

The seven workers were also treated at West Jefferson Medical Center in suburban New Orleans, said spokeswoman Taslin Alfonzo said. Most have been discharged.

Based on their symptoms, the seven workers appeared to have come into contact with some type of irritant, Alfonzo said. However, the hospital doesn't have a toxicology department, so it couldn't identify the irritant.

"It's difficult with things like that to know what exactly is the cause," said Dr. LuAnn White, professor and director of the Tulane Center for Applied Environmental Public Health in New Orleans, Louisiana.

It's possible to become sickened if volatile compounds still remain in the oil, she said. If a worker has direct contact with concentrated dispersants -- chemicals intended to break up the oil -- before they're mixed into the water, that could affect their health.

A BP spokesman, John Curry, has said the company takes "worker safety seriously." The company also said it has provided spill recovery workers with protective equipment, such as suits, steel-toed boots, gloves, hard hats and safety glasses.

In addition, BP said, workers are conducting about 250 air-quality tests a day. They also are testing workers for exposure to irritants and other substances that could be harmful, BP said.

The company also noted that testing has shown that "airborne contaminants are well within safe limits."

About 10 workers complained of feeling ill on Wednesday, prompting officials to recall more than 100 boats from an area adjacent to the Mississippi River delta. Lisa Faust with the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals said she believes as many as five were treated at the scene.

CNN's Madison Park contributed to this report.