12 Oct 2011

Volunteers becoming ill from oil clean-up

11:33 pm on 12 October 2011

People are being urged to stay away from Bay of Plenty beaches where toxic oil from a grounded container ship is washing up.

Globules of oil from the Rena have been coming ashore on beaches and Motiti Island since Monday. The public has been warned by Maritime New Zealand not to touch the oil and to leave the clean-up to experts.

Lifeguards at Mount Maunganui beaches say people volunteering to help clean up the oil are becoming ill, suffering from headaches and nausea.

Co-ordinator for Mount Maunganui beaches Alan Mundy says the effects of the oil spill are at their worst at Papamoa beach. He says surf lifesavers at the Omanu Surf Club are seeing people wearing minimal protective clothing, who get contaminated with oil and then become ill.

Bay of Plenty medical officer of health Neil de Wet says signs have been put up at beaches and people should look first to see if there is oil around before going on them.

Dr de Wet says people who get too close to the oil may suffer skin rashes, allergic skin reactions and eye irritations. He says marine fuel oil can also cause illness if swallowed and droplets can be inhaled.

About 150 Defence Force soldiers have been working on Papamoa beach on Wednesday. The troops have received special training in how to safely clean up the toxic material.

Health Minister Tony Ryall, the MP for Bay of Plenty, says he spent Wednesday morning on the beach and there is a real stench of oil in the air.