As oil gushed from the Macondo Well in the spring of 2010, BP officials calmly assured tens of thousands of wary cleanup workers that the chemical dispersant Corexit posed no more of a health risk than Dawn dish detergent. Now, with many of the 90,000 workers suffering from a range of debilitating symptoms associated with chemical poisoning, a whistleblower has provided the federal government with a bombshell piece of evidence that will play a key role in determining health-related damages in the BP oil spill settlement and surrounding negotiations.
From a March 2 post on the Government Accountability Project’s Whistleblogger website:
…[the] GAP and the Louisiana Environmental Action Network (LEAN) sent a joint letter to British Petroleum (BP) America’s Ombudsman Program, seeking an explanation for a resource manual provided by an anonymous source that details health risks for Deepwater Horizon spill cleanup workers from both the [two hundred] million gallons of oil, and the two million gallons of toxic dispersant.
The manual, “Deepwater Horizon MC252, Vessels of Opportunity Near Shore Oil Recovery Groups, Vessel Captains Hazard Communication” demonstrates apparent contradictions between BP’s official written warnings about the oil dispersant, on the one hand, and its statements to the public on the other. The discrepancies pertain to verbal claims that exposure to COREXIT, the dispersant selected by BP and approved by the EPA to treat the oil, was safe, and the health problems actually associated with COREXIT listed in a BP manual.
So despite the fact that BP officials knew the severe health risks tied to Corexit, they told cleanup workers they had absolutely nothing to fear from the dispersant.
The company manual exposes BP’s complete and utter disregard for the safety of cleanup crews that spent months working the waters in the spring and summer of 2010. This key piece of evidence may very well provide the impetus for sick cleanup workers – many of them commercial fishermen and charter boat captains – to opt out of the $7.8 billion class settlement and to sue BP on an individual basis.
The manual could certainly help lay the foundation for large punitive awards against the oil giant.
More from the GAP report:
The manual lists symptoms of exposure, such as damage to the central nervous system, chemical pneumonia, upper respiratory problems and injury to the kidney, liver or red blood cells (hemolysis). Further, the manual recognizes that crude oil contains benzene and other hazardous chemicals that can cause cancer.
People are sick and dying all along the Gulf Coast. We have a serious situation on our hands that has been largely overlooked by the national media and our elected officials in Washington. Consider this from a March 11, 2011, Al Jazeera report by Dahr Jamail:
“I have critically high levels of chemicals in my body,” 33-year-old Steven Aguinaga of Hazlehurst, Mississippi told Al Jazeera. “Yesterday I went to see another doctor to get my blood test results and the nurse said she didn’t know how I even got there.”
Aguinaga and his close friend Merrick Vallian went swimming at Fort Walton Beach, Florida, in July 2010.
“I swam underwater, then found I had orange slick stuff all over me,” Aguinaga said. “At that time I had no knowledge of what dispersants were, but within a few hours, we were drained of energy and not feeling good. I’ve been extremely sick ever since.”
“I have terrible chest pain, at times I can’t seem to get enough oxygen, and I’m constantly tired with pains all over my body,” Aguinaga explained, “At times I’m pissing blood, vomiting dark brown stuff, and every pore of my body is dispensing water.” Aguinaga’s health has been in dramatic decline.
And Aguinaga’s friend Vallian is now dead.
“After we got back from our vacation in Florida, Merrick went to work for a company contracted by BP to clean up oil in Grand Isle, Louisiana,” Aguinaga said of his 33-year-old physically fit friend.
“Aside from some gloves, BP provided no personal protection for them. He worked for them for two weeks and then died on August 23. He had just got his first paycheck, and it was in his wallet, uncashed, when he died.”
Tragically, there are thousands of accounts just like that of Steven Aguinaga. Many of those exposed to Corexit can no longer work or pay their ballooning medical bills or live through a day without enduring severe pain and a profound sense of loss.
The letter (mentioned above) to BP from the Government Accountability Project and my client, the nonprofit Louisiana Environmental Action Network, pulls no punches:
To illustrate our concerns, BP has aerially sprayed or otherwise released over two million gallons of COREXIT as the primary dispersant in the spill’s cleanup. BP and contractors have reassured cleanup crews that COREXIT is as safe as Dawn dishwasher soap. However, the manufacturer’s Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) included in the manual indicate that the dispersants utilized contain hazardous ingredients such as 2 butoxyethanol, petroleum distillates, and sulfonic acids. The specific petroleum distillates and sulfonic acids within COREXIT EC9257A and EC9500A have never been disclosed to the public.
The manual also makes it very clear that BP officials knew cleanup workers needed special safety equipment and gear to protect them from the dispersant’s toxicity, yet failed to provide it. More from the GAP:
The BP manual states that COREXIT is a chronic and acute health hazard under EPA standards, and its toxicity is so severe that special protective equipment and clothing are necessities. But LEAN and GAP have received numerous reports that when cleanup workers sought additional safety equipment, such as respirators donated by LEAN, they were threatened with termination.
Both GAP and LEAN had harsh words for BP’s despicable behavior. GAP’s Legal Director Tom Devine: “BP public statements and private reassurances are schizophrenic. This company needs to come clean with the truth about its cleanup. Did it knowingly abandon public health and occupational safety?” And LEAN’s Executive Director Marylee Orr had this to say: “This is about protecting people’s lives. There is no room for unclear communication or restricted information when it comes to protecting human health.”
It’s chilling when you really think about it. BP knowingly sent tens of thousands of cleanup workers directly into harm’s way without the slightest concern for their safety or well being. Company officials had to have known (or at least should have known) people would get sick, really sick – and they just didn’t care. You’ve got to believe that there’s a very special hell that awaits the BP officials who made those soulless decisions.
Check back with us soon as we will be watching closely to see how BP responds to these very serious allegations.
Read the Whistleblogger report here: http://whistleblower.org/blog/42-2012/1786-health-concerns-in-bps-own-manual-raise-questions
Here’s the link to both the bombshell BP manual and the GAP/LEAN letter: http://www.whistleblower.org/action-center/know-your-rights-campaign-the-gulf-coast/bp-resource-manual
Read Dahr Jamail’s report on sick Gulf Coast residents: http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2011/03/201138152955897442.html
View an MSNBC report on dispersant use and the dangers associated with it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xTuTWX4odoE&feature=related
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