AAP Information on the Oil Spill Affecting the Gulf Coast

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AAP Information on the Oil Spill Affecting the Gulf Coast


The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) encourages pediatricians, families, and communities to work together to ensure that children are protected from exposure to environmental and other hazards during the aftermath of the oil spill.


The government has created a Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force to develop a restoration strategy and ecosystem restoration agenda. The US Environmental Protection Agency awarded 9 environmental justice cooperative agreements to non-profit organizations in the Gulf Region.

The Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Units are a source of medical information and advice on environmental conditions that influence children's health. In addition, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is tracking potential health effects and offers resources specific to the 2010 Oil Spill.

The AAP, the American Academy of Clinical Toxicology, and the Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Units Network have developed a fact sheet for clinicians on the oil spill affecting the Gulf Coast.

Children Need to Be Protected
Oil is toxic and includes harmful substances that can get into the air, food, and water. Exposure to oil is especially harmful to children. Parents and caregivers should become aware of the health concerns related to the oil spill and what they need to do to keep their children safe.
  • Keep children out of areas where water or land contains oil or sludge. Children and teenagers should not enter these areas and should not be involved in swimming, boating, fishing, or other activities in areas impacted by the oil spill.
  • Follow local guidelines. Each state has a system for monitoring air, food, and water. Check the local or state Web site for information.
  • Children and teenagers should not be involved in clean-up efforts but should only return after the area is cleaned up. Children should be the last group to return to areas where there is oil or sludge.
  • Some children may be at increased risk or may develop respiratory symptoms even after one exposure to oil or chemicals in the air. Contact your child's pediatrician if they develop symptoms that you are concerned about.
Communication Tips for Parents and Caregivers
The negative effects of the oil spill can be worrisome and overwhelming to children. Messages in the media about the oil spill can be concerning. Children may have difficulty understanding and coping, especially if they were already worried about their family or community. There may also be an added sense of helplessness for those traumatized by a previous storm or hurricane. Fear may be intensified if new hurricanes/storms or flooding come into the same area.

If children are worried or have questions about the oil spill, it's important to talk with them about their feelings. Talks may be about:
  • The facts. Talk to children about the oil spill. Ask them if they have questions and listen to what they say. This can help them understand the situation, including the risks they may be exposed to on a day-to-day basis and what they can do to keep themselves safe.
  • Fears. Some children may feel hopeless or develop a range of stress-related symptoms. For example, it may be upsetting for them to see dead or oil-covered fish, birds, or other wildlife. They may worry that they will get sick or die. Adults should promote adjustment and help children cope. Adults can also reassure children that many people are working to stop the spill, protect the environment, clean up the oil, and help save wildlife.
  • The economy. Caring for children during tough financial times is challenging. Adults should talk to children about the economy and reassure them.
  • How to help. Even though children should not be involved in the clean-up, they can be encouraged to talk about the oil spill and ways to help. Children can volunteer at a wildlife center or learn about ways to save energy.

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