Severe Weather Survival Guide

Oil Spills

Oil spills can kill people, animals, and plants. They can drastically change the ecology of a region. They can also cripple a region's economy by affecting travel and limiting access to supplies.


Oils are usually only flammable for a short time. The most flammable components evaporate over time. However, care should be taken around "fresh" oil to avoid sparks or flames.

During the initial stages of an oil spill, hydrocarbon vapors are released. Vapor clouds can be explosive. They can also be dangerous to internal combustion engines, causing them to overspeed. If a vapor cloud has been blown into your area, avoid sparks and flames, stay in a well-ventilated area, and do not attempt to drive or even turn on a vehicle. You can protect your engine in advance by having an air inlet shutoff device installed.

Crude oil is toxic and can damage every system in the body. Most components of crude oil enter the bloodstream rapidly when inhaled or swallowed.

Avoid contact with the skin. Avoid eating anything that may have come in contact with oil. Keep children away from oil. People who are more susceptible to illness, such as those with medical conditions, those taking medications that reduce detoxification ability, people who drink alcohol, people who are exposed to other toxic chemicals at home or work, pregnant women, and developing fetuses are in even more danger of ill effects due to exposure to oil or its vapors.

If you must be near or come in contact with oil or oil vapors, wear the appropriate protective equipment: gloves, masks, respirators, and/or water-repellent clothing.

"Sour crudes", crude oil that contain sulfur, give off hydrogen sulfide gas. At high concentrations, the inhalation of hydrogen sulfide is instantly fatal and is impossible to detect without specialist equipment. If a vapor cloud of hydrogen sulfide drifts towards a populated area, that area will likely be evacuated. Should this occur, evacuate quickly so as to limit any possible exposure to the gas.

The gases from hydrocarbons can push out breathable air, particularly in confined or poorly-ventilated spaces. If there has been an oil spill near you, avoid trenches and confined areas where the gases may have collected.

Oil is by nature slippery, so there is a danger of accidents due to slipping and falling. It can also be difficult to perform tasks while wearing oil-covered gloves.

Helping Out During an Oil Spill

Oil spill rescue crews should wear protective gear and take every precaution to avoid direct contact with oil.

Some research indicates that rescue crews who work to clean oil off of birds suffer the most ill effects due to contact with oil. It is best to leave this kind of work to people who have the training and equipment to deal with it safely.

The safest way you can help with the BP Gulf oil disaster is by donating.

To report oiled wildlife, call 1-866-557-1401.

To discuss oil related damage, call 1-800-440-0858.

To report oiled shoreline or to request volunteer information, call 1-866-448-5816. This is the BP Community Support Team Hotline, which is being used as a hub by nonprofit organizations to coordinate volunteer inquiries. Leave a message with your contact information and your questions about how to help or information on oiled shoreline.

For more information on the Gulf Oil Spill, click here.


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