Charlie Neibergall  /  AP
In this photo made Friday, June 11, 2010, Allen Sreiy stands next to oily booms on his shrimp boat as he helps in cleanup operations for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, in Bay Jimmy near Venice, La. Sreiy's Tyvek suit, worn by hundreds of workers cleaning up oil along the Gulf Coast, protects crews from the crude but it also makes for a sweaty _ and potentially dangerous _ mess as a sweltering heat wave sweeps across the region. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
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updated 6/15/2010 6:57:57 PM ET 2010-06-15T22:57:57

In the oil-fouled marshes of the Mississippi River delta, the sizzling high-noon heat beats down like a fist.

There's hardly a breeze to stir the reeds dotted across the tea colored water, but Allen Sreiy is covered from the chin down by a white plastic suit, his feet in bright yellow boots, hands in thick blue plastic gloves.

Sreiy's Tyvek suit, worn by hundreds of workers cleaning up oil along the Gulf Coast, protects crews from the crude but it also makes for a sweaty — and potentially dangerous — mess as a sweltering heat wave sweeps across the region.

"Whatever the temperature is, you put on this suit and you add 30 degrees just like that," Sreiy said.

Sreiy, 24, and his father, Siphan Sreiy, would normally be shrimping this time of year, going out in the cool of the evening and working all night. But with fishing grounds closed by the oil, they signed up for a cleanup program called "vessels of opportunity."

They are putting their boats to work pulling up oil-soaked boom instead of catching the seafood that New Orleans chefs turn into culinary works of art.

"It doesn't pay as well as shrimping," said Sreiy, who is from Buras, La. "But at least it pays."

If you can take the heat.

Heat indexes near 110 degrees
Forecasters issued an excessive heat advisory Monday for unrelenting high temperatures across the Gulf Coast states with heat indexes approaching 110 degrees. A heat index of more than 105 creates prime conditions for heat illnesses, according to the National Weather Service, which says heat kills about 175 Americans annually.

"It is a very dangerous situation," said Dr. James Diaz, head of environmental and occupational health sciences at the LSU Health Science Center in New Orleans.

Heat issues are reviewed every morning, said BP spokeswoman Stephanie Shanks. On-site supervisors, she said, are responsible for the effect of the heat.

BP says more than 24,000 workers assigned to the oil spill, but it's unclear how many of them are dealing directly with heat problems. Many are deployed on boats; others march the shoreline cleaning up oil blobs that make it to beaches.

"People from this area would have an advantage," Diaz said. "They would be acclimated to the heat and that really helps. People coming from areas that don't have this heat and humidity are going to have an even worse time with it."

70 workers treated at one tent
Taslin Alfonzo, spokeswoman for West Jefferson Medical Center in Louisiana, said 70 workers had been treated for heat-related illness at a tent in Grand Isle. None was serious enough to require hospitalization.

Video: Sharing responsibility for the Gulf crisis In Orange Beach, Ala., cleanup crews were dressed in the Occupational Safety and Health Administration-required protective coveralls and drenched in sweat as they used shovels to remove the top few inches of oil-stained sand. With the temperature already at 96 degrees by early afternoon on Monday, forecasters said it felt like 112 degrees on the hot, white sand.

Generators powered big fans that were pointed under tent-like canopies where workers took breaks, and safety bosses reminded them to drink plenty of water. But after a few minutes in the shade, the workers were throwing big bags of sand into the bucket of a front-end loader rumbling up and down the sand.

Back in Louisiana, money has been hard to come by since the spill closed down most shrimping and oyster harvesting. The bills still come in, so Allen and Siphan Sreiy head out as often as they can, leaving the docks before daybreak and traveling an hour in their crude-stained boat before getting to the oil.

Image: Oil cleanup workers near Venice, La.
Charlie Neibergall  /  AP
Workers check on oil skimmers in Bay Jimmy near Venice, La. The Tyvek suits worn by hundreds of workers cleaning up oil along the Gulf Coast protects crews from the crude but it also makes for sweaty work.
Across Barataria Bay — a huge expanse of water and marsh on Louisiana's coast — shrimp boats are scattered, with their big wing-like skimmers extending from their sides. Those skimmers would normally spread shrimp nets but now they spread boom.

Because of the heat, workers not wearing the Tyvek suits work 40 minutes on, 20 minutes off. Workers in the suits work 20 minutes on, 40 off.

"It's tough work," said Donnie Morgan, safety supervisor overseeing the work around Cat Island. "And it's hot work. These guys can't take more than 20 minutes in those suits. They need to cool off and get water."

Lyndon Jones, 42, of New Orleans shucks off his Tyvek suit and sips water in a small skiff off Cat Island.

He shakes his head and mops his face.

Normally, Jones says, he would be cutting grass at the New Orleans zoo. Instead, he makes the two-hour drive to Venice, then a two-hour boat trip through the marsh, where he suits up and lugs the slick, heavy boom into a small boat from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.

"This is harder and hotter than cutting grass," Jones said. "But the pay is better, so here I am."

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: La. builds barge barriers to block oil

  1. Transcript of: La. builds barge barriers to block oil

    HOLT: in the gulf, one place we've been hearing a lot about, Grand Isle is about to try something new to keep all that oil from contaminating precious marshland. They're uses barges, lots of them, in an unusual way. NBC 's Thanh Truong is in Grand Isle tonight.

    THANH TRUONG reporting: Hey there, Lester . The oil continues to move further into the marshes here, and there's now a plan to use these barges behind me to block its path. Here in Grand Isle , Louisiana , desperate times are calling for desperate measures. To prevent more oil from getting through Pass Abel and Four Bayou Pass , 116 barges will be lined up, filled with water and partially submerged to hopefully narrow the openings by 70 to 80 percent.

    Governor BOBBY JINDAL: This is a war, and we have got to win this war. We cannot afford to have this oil in our wetlands. And what concerns us is that we are losing this war at this time.

    Capt. LaFERRIERE: The barges would be spudded down, basically, and it would form a wall to direct the oil into our skimming efforts, where we can actually pick it up off the water.

    TRUONG: Governor Bobby Jindal says it took much too long for the federal government to approve the barge plan. Local leaders say it took several meetings with federal officials to get some traction. And it wasn't until a face-to-face meeting between President Obama and Jindal last week that the state's plan got the green light.

    Gov. JINDAL: But if they're not going to get us the booms and the skimmers that we asked for, we have got to be creative in narrowing those passes so we can concentrate the limited resources we do have.

    TRUONG: Oil can now be spotted more than 12 miles north of the marshes here. Officials say this is the furthest inland the oil has been so far.

    Mr. DAVID CARMARDELLE (Grand Isle Mayor): We got 70 barges behind our island, we got 18-wheelers going to load up, and we're going to be lit up like a Christmas tree and working around the clock to fight the oil.

    TRUONG: And tomorrow they'll start work on this so-called barge barrier. They'll be driving pilings into the water. Then on Thursday, Lester , they'll be moving these barges out to those passes.

    HOLT: Thanh Truong tonight, thank you.

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