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Even so, the state health department has ordered testing of municipal water systems near the Gulf for signs of oil.
"It's next to impossible that a high amount would get in," Guidry said. "Even if some got through, more than likely the treatment system would eliminate it."
The department this week began taking samples at seafood processing plants. Officials have ordered a temporary moratorium on fishing in federal waters from the Mississippi River to the Florida Panhandle, but sampling will provide benchmarks enabling scientists to track any increases in contaminant levels once fishing is allowed to resume.
Louisiana health officials said they believe fish, shrimp and other Gulf delicacies already on the market are safe.
"If we see increases in hydrocarbons or other contaminants, we'd stop the flow of seafood," Levine said.
Even after the immediate crisis passes, risks could linger for years, said Gina Solomon, an associate professor at the University of California-San Francisco medical school and a senior scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council.
"Exposure to some of the chemicals in oil has been linked to cancer," Solomon said. "Those chemicals can get into sediments in the Gulf, build in the food chain and be a long-term problem in fish and shellfish."
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is working with epidemiologists in the Gulf states to develop studies of health repercussions from the oil spill, Guidry said.
Yet another hazard is direct contact with oil-saturated water -- particularly for cleanup crews and volunteers involved in animal rescue operations.
When the container ship Cosco Busan hit a bridge and released 53,000 gallons of highly toxic bunker fuel into San Francisco Bay in November 2007, officials managing the cleanup ordered volunteers to wear protective suits, gloves and masks that later were discarded at a hazardous waste dump. Some oil fouled beaches, which were closed to prevent danger to the public.
People working around the Gulf spill should be equipped with respirator devices and wear heavy-duty gloves and protective clothing to guard against painful skin rashes, said Solomon, who has treated patients exposed to oil fumes.
"The workers absolutely need to be protected," Solomon said.
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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