Health and safety in the response effort

BP took steps to safeguard the health and safety of thousands of individuals involved in the Deepwater Horizon response.

BP worked under the direction of the U.S. Coast Guard, and with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration and other organizations to help manage potential health risks posed in the response. Immediate measures included the identification of potential hazards to the responders and strategies to communicate, manage and reduce potential risks that might be present.

For example, BP assembled teams of toxicologists and industrial hygienists to assess potential risks in the working environment, including those to human health from the oil itself and the dispersants used, as well as the environmental and biological risks associated with the onshore clean-up, such as snake or rodent bites, but most notably risks from working in the summer heat of the Gulf.

Monitoring health and environmental impacts

To help monitor the health and safety of residents and responders, BP supported comprehensive air and water monitoring programmes from the outset. In co-operation with the Unified Area Command, we implemented an environmental testing and monitoring programme to help guide oil recovery and clean-up efforts, and to assist in understanding any potential health and environmental impacts of the Deepwater Horizon accident.

More than 30,000 response worker personal monitoring samples were collected beginning shortly after the onset of the release in order to monitor and help prevent response workers’ exposures to chemicals released from fresh and weathered crude oil and from dispersants. The samples were collected by BP, the US Coast Guard, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Since the oil had to travel through an extensive water column to reach the surface, virtually all of the results collected from the air were well below the regulatory and voluntary occupational exposure limits set to protect workers in the oil and gas industry. A small number of higher measurements were found in the nearshore and beach areas, believed to have been mostly attributable to unusual, non-recurrent events such as marine vessel fuel leaks.

Environmental sampling and monitoring during the response

BP, the U.S. Coast Guard, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other government agencies implemented a comprehensive air quality sampling and monitoring programme, and tested numerous samples of water and sediments for oil and dispersants.

More than 15,000 air samples were taken and analyzed for on-shore community air quality observation, with over 499,000 analytical results reported. Additionally, more than 874,000 community air quality observation monitoring readings were reported. For worker protection, more than 319,000 air monitoring readings were reported.

The EPA reviewed its air quality sampling and monitoring conducted during the Deepwater Horizon accident and response. A signature of volatile organic compounds and a possible polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons signature were detected that were transported into the Mississippi area during the beginning of the oil spill. The data also indicated that after 15 May 2010, when the subsurface application of dispersants began, these compounds dropped down in concentration to routine urban air concentrations.

In addition to air sampling and monitoring, the Unified Command used a statistically-based approach to collect a significant number of water and sediment samples in near shore and offshore locations. These samples were subjected to tests for hydrocarbons and chemical tests for dispersant constituents.

To help protect the health and safety of residents and responders, we shared the data and information from the environmental monitoring programme with appropriate state and federal agencies. Sampling results were published on this website and on various government websites.


The information on this page forms part of the information reviewed and reported on by Ernst & Young as part of BP's 2014 sustainability reporting. View the full assurance statement.