Gulf Clean-up Workers' Health Concerns

It's been six weeks since the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and now workers who are cleaning up the beaches are beginning to fall ill.

CBS News Medical Correspondent Dr. Jennifer Ashton reported from Venice, La. Monday on the adverse health effects the clean-up could be having.

Ashton says clean-up workers should be wearing certain gear, such as heavy duty rubber gloves, sleeves that cover the lower arm, a mask, and protective goggles.

Animals Hurt by the Spill
Special Section: Disaster in the Gulf
Oil Spill by the Numbers

But many did not get that warning soon enough.

Ashton spoke with George Jackson, who has made his living for the past 35 years crabbing in Gulf waters. But for now, Jackson has been relegated to cleaning up the oil that has ruined his season.

Two weeks ago, Jackson says, he began to experience severe headaches after an encounter with what he believes was a toxic dispersant. Jackson says he was wearing regular clothes with no protective goggles, gloves, or mask.

But Jackson isn't the only one. At the beginning of the clean-up, many workers wore little or no protective gear. On May 27, seven were rushed to a Jefferson Parish emergency room.

Alan Levine, Louisiana's Health Secretary, told CBS News there have been 75 people so far reporting spill-related symptoms, mostly flu-like respiratory woes. But Levine believes it will continue to get worse.

"I think that number is going to increase pretty dramatically," said Levine. "We're still at the very beginning of this. Keep in mind that this is going to go on for months and months."

There is nothing to worry about for regular beach-goers; there is currently no airborne danger, Ashton says.

But direct contact is a different story. Officials say only those trained in clean-up with the right equipment should handle tarballs.

Jackson agrees, having had firsthand experience: He's back at work, but now wears protective gear.

"I want people to know what's out there, I want people to be safe, I don't want anybody to get hurt," Jackson says..

At this point, no worker who has worn hazard-gear has reported getting sick, Ashton noted.