Over and over, I see photos in the news of kind, well-meaning folks who have put themselves at risk by attempting to rescue oil-covered wildlife. In situations like this we always remind folks to keep themselves safe by not approaching the animals – but what is the danger, really?
Well, setting aside the risk of being bitten or otherwise harmed by a frightened, defensive wild animal, oil itself is highly toxic. Oil is actually made up of an incredible number of chemicals, most of which do not play nice with the human body. Some of these toxic compounds are easily absorbed through the skin, while others evaporate and cause issues when they are breathed in.
The effects of these toxins are variable, but there can be both short and long term health impacts when unprotected people come into contact with petroleum products. Here’s an excellent article on this subject through Discovery News.
Our responders protect themselves with many hours of training and specialized equipment like petroleum-resistant coveralls, gloves, goggles, and boots, all so they can prevent the oil toxins from being absorbed through their skin or accidentally ingested. Specialists monitor the levels of toxins in the air, so that we can take appropriate respiratory precautions when necessary. And even with all this protection, our responders must be constantly vigilant so they do not accidentally expose themselves to the petroleum.
So while we want your help to report oiled wildlife (if you see anything, call the hotline (1-877-UCD-OWCN) to report ASAP), more than anything we want you to be safe. Please do not enter oil-affected areas, and do not attempt to rescue oiled wildlife! Remember:
- Regular clothing is not an effective barrier to petroleum
- Potential routes of oil exposure include absorption through the skin, ingestion, inhalation, and injection
- Contact with larger amounts of petroleum and/or for longer periods of time increases the amount of toxins a person might absorb, but a long contact time is not needed for toxins to absorb
- Breathing in petroleum fumes can also be dangerous, and
- We do have teams of professionals out in the field, and we do monitor reports of oiled animals we receive via the Oiled Wildlife Hotline (1-877-UCD-OWCN)
Be well, and thanks for caring about the animals!