So Far, 400 Have Sought Medical Care After Visits to Escambia County Beaches

June 28th, 2010


The Escambia County Health Department lifted a health advisory on Pensacola Beach on Friday on the advice of a beach official and against the advice of a federal environmental official.

But the advisory was not lifted for Gulf Islands National Seashore’s Fort Pickens beach, immediately west of Pensacola Beach or Johnson Beach on Perdido Key.

And hours after the Pensacola Beach advisory was lifted, the health department asked for state approval to issue an oil-impact advisory that leaves the decision to swim in the Gulf of Mexico up to the discretion of individual beachgoers.

The signs would be posted on 41 of the 43 miles of Escambia County beaches — from the Florida-Alabama line to just west of Portofino Beach — impacted by oil.

Meanwhile, the Environmental Protection Agency plans to put decontamination stations along the beach, possibly as early as this weekend.

These moves send conflicting signals about how safe it is to swim in the Gulf of Mexico as the impacts of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill broadens.

Dr. John Lanza, director of Escambia County Health Department, said the reason for leaving the decision up to beachgoers on whether to swim is because the oil situation on the beach is “very dynamic.”

“We have a situation that changes from one hour to the next, from one tide to the next, from wave to wave, from one wind direction to another,” he said.

Lanza said this ever-changing environment is something “we’re going to face for weeks or months in the future.”

The oil impact signs would be posted indefinitely and warn beachgoers that oil has washed up on the beaches. But the impact advisory would not prohibit people from going swimming as the health advisory for Pensacola Beach issued from Wednesday to Friday morning did.

Similar to the health advisory, the impact advisory would warn beachgoers to avoid touching oily product on the beach and in the water, and it would advise them leaving the beach and seeking medical help if they experience respiratory problems.

So far, 400 people have sought medical care for upper or lower respiratory problems, headaches, nausea, and eye irritation after trips to Escambia County beaches, Lanza said.

Swimmers who did venture into the water questioned whether it was really safe to wade, swim and play in the Gulf, especially when they had to walk through a line of tar balls and stay clear of skimmers scooping up oil just 25 and 50 feet from the shore.

“I only went into the water up to my ankles. That’s as far as I wanted to go,” said Joe Chambers, 28, of West Pensacola as he scrubbed off oily residue from himself and his son, Ethan, 4, in the public showers at Casino Beach. “It doesn’t smell like the beach. It smells like a gas station. There are no fish in the water. There’s nothing alive in the water. I don’t know how public officials can just look at the water and make a call to reopen it for swimming.”

Carol Doster of Grand Isle, Miss., said her son Dallas, 12, was frightened by the oil that streaked his legs and arms after a five-minute swim in the Gulf on Friday. “It won’t rub off,” Doster said.

She said the two were not going to get in the water again.

2 Responses to “So Far, 400 Have Sought Medical Care After Visits to Escambia County Beaches”

  1. seanx38 Says:

    I really have to question the parenting skills and common sense of anyone who would take their child to the beach in the Gulf right now. What the hell did they think was going to happen? I realize they are in Florida…and aren’t that bright. But, damn. How reckless and stupid can anyone be?

  2. tochigi Says:

    yes, but if county officials say it is safe to swim, then it must be safe to swim. don’t you realize that people who cast doubt on the judgment and integrity of county, state and federal government officials are terrorists!


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