22 October 2011

Information for the Public: Bay of Plenty District Health Board

Oil has been found in the water and on the beaches along the Bay of Plenty coastline.  In affected areas, please stay away from the water and beaches.  Public health and local councils have erected signs on the beaches warning people to avoid contact with the water and shoreline.

Oil Contact:

Do NOT touch anything with oil on it or attempt to clean it up- it is toxic and should not be in direct contact with skin.

If you accidently come into contact with the oil:

  • Wash it off with soap and water, baby oil or petroleum jelly.
  • Do not use solvents, gasoline, kerosene, diesel fuel or similar products on your skin.
  • Take reasonable precautions to avoid accidental ingestion (wash hands before eating).
  • If you get oil on clothing, wash it in the usual way.
  • If you get the oil in your eyes, rinse with water for 15 minutes.
  • Breathing in the vapour can cause irritation in mouth, nose throat and lungs. Move out of the area as quickly as possible.                  
If symptoms persist, see your GP or Emergency Department for advice.

Oil Smell:

The oil spillage on the beaches combined with weather conditions can produce in some areas a noticeable smell in the areas of the beaches. If this occurs, the smell is likely to diminish over a period of one or two hours from the time the oil has reached the beach.  Some people in the vicinity may experience some physical discomfort so it is advised they should shut windows or avoid the immediate vicinity of the of the beaches and avoid all immediate or secondary contact with the oil spillage.  If anyone experiences any discomfort they should move away to an area of fresh air.

Shellfish, crustaceans, seaweed and kina:

With changing wind patterns and currents and ongoing oil spills from the Rena the seabed and shoreline areas affected by oil are likely to change on a daily basis.

The advice below is provided to help guide the public about the collection of any seafood such as shellfish (e.g. pipi, mussels, cockles, scallops, tuatua, oysters, paua), crustaceans (e.g. crayfish and crabs), seaweed and kina.

The advice is precautionary and conservative. Any seafood that has a petrol-like or fuel-like smell should definitely not be eaten. Some taints may become more apparent once seafood is cooked.

A shellfish sampling programme has started but will only provide reliable results on safe areas when the situation has stabilised and there is no further risk of new oil exposure. The advice below is based on the best available information and risk assessment, and will be updated as the situation unfolds. This includes consideration of other possible sources of hazard - such as toxic substances from lost containers.

Shellfish Zone Map - Red, Amber and Green

Shellfish, crustaceans, seaweed and kina: Red Zone

The red zone includes all areas that:

  • Are known to have current oil contamination; or,
  • Are known to have had recent oil contamination even if it has been cleaned up; or,
  • Have health warning signage; or,
  • Are closed to the public; or,
  • Have recently been closed to the public; or,
  • Have a high risk of oil being found on them.
The red zone (as at October 21) currently extends from:

  • Waihi Beach in the west to the entrance to Ohiwa Harbour in the east. (It should be noted that there is existing advice about not taking shellfish from Tauranga Harbour and the Waihi Estuary due to the possible presence of pathogens such as norovirus.)
  • It includes inshore islands, rocky outcrops and estuaries in these areas.
  • Specifically, it also includes Matakana Island, Motiti Island and Whale Island.
The public are advised not to collect shellfish, crayfish or crabs in these areas until further notice.

Shellfish, crustaceans, seaweed and kina: Amber Zone

The amber zone includes areas where there are not yet confirmed reports of oil but there is a high risk of new oil contamination being found. In some of these areas oil contaminated debris from the Rena has been found.

The amber zone includes the coastline from:

  • The Ohiwa Harbour entrance to Cape Runaway;
  • It includes inshore islands, Ohiwa harbour, rocky outcrops and estuaries in these areas.
The public are advised that shellfish, crustaceans and kina in these areas are at significant risk of oil contamination and ideally should not be collected. Any seafood that has a petrol-like or fuel-like smell should definitely not be eaten.

Please report immediately any observed oil contamination in these areas to 0800 OIL SPILL.

Shellfish, crustaceans, seaweed and kina: Green Zone

Shellfish, crustaceans and kina may be taken from these areas but please exercise caution. To date neither oil nor debris from the Rena has been identified on this coast but that could change at any time. Be vigilant for signs of oil contamination. If there are any signs of oil contamination on the beach or on rocks, or a petrol-like or fuel-like smell is present, seafood should not be taken or consumed. Any seafood that has a petrol-like or fuel-like smell should definitely not be eaten.

The green zone includes:

  • The east coast of the Coromandel peninsula north from Waihi Beach
Please report immediately any observed oil contamination in these areas to 0800 OIL SPILL (0800 645 774).

Recreational fishing:

The current shipping exclusion zone should not be fished in.

Outside of this area we specifically advise against taking fish from:

  • Any area that has visible or known oil contamination
  • Any area that has had recent oil contamination even if it has been cleaned up
  • Any area where there is signage advising against fishing.
Any fish that have a petrol-like or fuel-like smell should definitely not be eaten.

Recreational water use / watersport:

Please refer to the Maritime New Zealand website (http://www.maritimenz.govt.nz/Incident/QandA.asp#public) to identify the:

  • maritime exclusion zone
  • closed boat ramps
  • beaches that are closed to recreational activity
In other areas the public are advised to exercise caution.

  • Sports such as kayaking and boating where there is unlikely to be contact with floating oil are likely to be safe but vigilance is required.
  • People should be especially vigilant with sports such as swimming and avoid any unnecessary exposure.
  • If you do smell or see oil in the water we suggest you leave the area.

Containers have fallen off the ship and they (and their contents) have been coming onto the shore in affected areas.

  • Please do not handle or consume the contents from the containers.  For the latest updates on the containers, visit the Maritime website.

  • We recommend that you stay away from the affected beaches, but if you do wish to volunteer, we recommend you do it through the official channels. Please complete the online volunteer oil recovery responders registration form or call 0800 645 774.
While no additional health risk has been identified, we recommend as a general precaution that pregnant or breastfeeding mothers avoid unnecessary exposure and do not assist with the oil spill clean up.

Questions & Answers:

How can I avoid the health threats of oil?

The best way to avoid health problems from oil is to A-C-T!
That stands for Avoid, Clean, Treat.

A: Avoid it!

  • When possible, avoid coming into contact with oil. 
  • If you may come in contact with oil, wear gloves, eye protection, and clothing that cover your arms and legs.
In the unlikely event that you breathe in vapours you may experience coughing and irritation of your mouth, nose, throat and lungs. Odours from the decaying oil may cause nausea, but this should stop when you leave the area. Under unusual circumstances that we don’t generally expect, some people with pre-existing conditions may feel short of breath or develop dizziness, or tightness or in the chest. You should consult your doctor or go to the nearest emergency department anytime you experience these kinds of symptoms.

C: Clean it off!

  • If you get oil on your skin, wash with soap and water, baby oil, petroleum jelly, or a cleaning paste for hands such as those sold at auto parts stores. Do not use solvents, gasoline, kerosene, diesel fuel, or similar products to clean oil off skin.
  • If you get oil in your eyes, rinse them with water for 15 minutes.
T: Treat any symptoms!

  • If you inhale oil vapours, or smoke from burning oil, move to an area where the air is more clear.
Get medical help if you:

  • Develop a rash or have an allergic reaction.
  • Swallow oil. Do not try to vomit as this may get oil into the lungs.
  • Feel short of breath, have chest pain or tightness, or dizziness.
  • Have persistant eye symptoms after washing the oil out.
What are the health threats of oil when it reaches the shore?

  • For most people, brief contact with a small amount of oil will do no harm. The oil may cause a rash, skin irritation or other allergic reactions. It can irritate your skin, so you should wash it off as soon as possible. It can also irritate the eyes.
  • Skin contact with oil over a longer period of time can cause red skin, swelling, and burning. Skin effects may get worse if the skin is exposed to the sun.
  • Some people may be bothered by the odours from the oil and may feel dizzy, or nauseated as a reaction to the smell. Even if the oil smells bad, it should not cause health problems. However, if you do continue to experience the symptoms after you get away from the smell, or you experience any other health problems you should get medical advice.
  • Swallowing small amounts of oil like one might experience after swimming in a contaminated area may cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhoea in some people. However such an exposure is generally not likely to cause prolonged health effects after the initial bout is over. Regardless, you should contact your doctor if you have concerns after swimming in areas where local authorities have posted beach advisories or you saw oil or tarballs on the beach.
  • Some cleaning activities, such as water blasting, can send small oil droplets into the air, where they can be breathed in or land on the eyes, face, or skin. Anyone near activities like these should wear protective clothing and respirators to protect their skin and lungs.
Source: Toi Te Ora Public Health Services. 22 October 2011

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