The purpose of this study was to evaluate exposure conditions and acute health effects in subjects participating in the Prestige oil spill cleanup activities and the association between these and the nature of the work and use of protection devices in the regions of Asturias and Cantabria (Spain). The sample comprised 400 subjects in each region, selected from a random sampling of all persons involved in cleanup activities, stratified by type of worker and number of working days. Data were obtained via a structured questionnaire and included information on specific tasks, number of working days, use of protective materials, and acute health effects. These effects were classified into two broad groups: injuries and toxic effects. Data analysis was performed using complex survey methods. Significant differences between groups were evaluated using Pearson's chi(2) test. Unconditional logistic regression was used to compute odds ratios and 95% confidence intervals. Bird cleaners accounted for the highest prevalence of injuries (19% presented with lesions). Working more than 20 days in highly polluted areas was associated with increased risk of injury in all workers. Occurrence of toxic effects was higher among seamen, possibly due to higher exposure to fuel oil and its components. Toxic effects were more frequent among those working longer than 20 days in highly polluted areas, performing three or more different cleaning activities, having skin contact with fuel oil on head/neck or upper limbs, and eating while in contact with fuel or perceiving disturbing odors. No severe disorders were identified among individuals who performed these tasks. However, potential health impact should be considered when organizing cleanup activities in similar environmental disasters.