How 25 whistleblowers blew the lid off BP’s Corexit scandal

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It’s hard to keep secret. But it’s really hard to keep a secret when hundreds, if not thousands, of American citizens have been sickened from exposure to a highly toxic chemical — even when it’s one of the world’s richest oil companies and people inside the U.S. government that are trying to pull off the cover-up. That’s the sad situation that is unfolding here in the Gulf of Mexico, as the wider world is finally waking up to the fact that the hazardous chemical BP used to make some of the oil from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill disappear from the public’s view also made clean-up workers ill — very ill, in some cases.

This past weekend, I told you about the blockbuster report in Newsweek (which lives on in digital form) exposing — on the three year anniversary of the rig explosion, which killed 11 workers — that BP had ample warning from the company that makes the dispersant Corexit, NALCO, of severe potential health risks. Yet BP still deployed some 1.8 million gallons — much of it the most toxic form of Corexit — all to cause the oil to disperse, even though much of it remains in the Gulf 36 months later. And it never passed these warnings on to the clean-up workers despite laws requiring it to do so.

Today we’re learning even more about the BP cover-up, and how it unraveled. Much of it was the work of a leading whistleblower group, working in the public interest, called the Government Accountability Project, or GAP. GAP decided to investigate Corexit after an initial report from Dr. Michael Robichaux, a very respected physician and former state senator here in Louisiana who has been treating numerous cases caused by exposure to Corexit. Through the efforts of GAP, researchers identified 25 whistleblowers — clean-up workers as well as doctors, an industry worker, divers, and residents of the Gulf Coast — who had the goods on what really happened.

GAP’s report — “Deadly Dispersants in the Gulf: Are Public Health and Environmental Tragedies the New Norm for Oil Spill Cleanups?” — was released this week, and the findings are devastating. Here’s a sample from the executive summary:

 Existing Health Problems

  • Eventually coined “BP Syndrome” or “Gulf Coast Syndrome,” all GAP witnesses experienced spill-related health problems. Some of these effects include: blood in urine; heart palpitations; kidney damage; liver damage; migraines; multiple chemical sensitivity; neurological damage resulting in memory loss; rapid weight loss; respiratory system and nervous system damage; seizures; skin irritation, burning and lesions; and temporary paralysis.
  • Interviewees are also extremely concerned about recognized long-term health effects from chemical exposure (from those specific chemicals found in Corexit/oil mixtures), which may not have manifested yet. These include reproductive damage (such as genetic mutations), endocrine disruption, and cancer.
  • Blood test results from a majority of GAP interviewees showed alarmingly high levels of chemical exposure – to Corexit and oil – that correlated with experienced health effects. These chemicals include known carcinogens.

The Failure to Protect Cleanup Workers

  • Contrary to warnings in BP’s own internal manual, BP and the government misrepresented known risks by asserting that Corexit was low in toxicity.

That’s just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Cleanup workers did not receive proper training or instruction manuals. Divers who should have been barred from going down in unsafe waters were told everything was OK. Workers were told not to wear respirators because it would cause more public relations problems for BP. The whistleblowers said there was continued use of Corexit after its use was supposedly stopped in July 2010. They cast doubt on seafood safety testing, and further investigation showed substantial oil damage to the sea floor and coral reefs.

And, as I told the court last fall, the settlement of medical claims with BP was set up, bizarrely, to exclude the most ill. How sick did Corexit exposure make some people along the Gulf? Here’s a case study from the GAP investigation.

Every three to four weeks, a cycle of horror repeats itself across Steve Kolian’s face. First it becomes itchy. Then the bumps appear. Then a raw, irritating redness sets in before the skin peels away in patches. Finally, it all disappears for a while.

Other parts of his body, however, seem to be in perpetual disrepair. Dizziness, nausea, diarrhea, bloody stools and cognitive issues surface intermittently, painful reminders of the toxic assault he and untold others endured following the April 2010 explosion on the BP Deepwater Horizon oil rig.

Kolian, 51, is convinced that his illnesses were triggered by a chemical product designed to disperse petroleum in water, a substance euphemistically marketed as “Corexit.” Now, three years after the disaster that left some 210 million gallons of Louisiana Crude and 1.8 million gallons of dispersant in the Gulf of Mexico, a growing body of evidence supports his contentions.

To read more from the Government Accountability Project about what its whistleblowers helped reveal, check out a summary at: http://www.whistleblower.org/program-areas/public-health/corexit

To learn more about Steve Kolian’s case, please check out: http://www.takepart.com/article/2013/04/17/corexit-deepwater-horizon-oil-spill

You can read my April 20 blog post about the BP Corexit coverup at: http://www.stuarthsmith.com/3-year-anniversary-bombshell-whistleblower-says-bp-covered-up-health-risks-of-corexit/

© Smith Stag, LLC 2013 – All Rights Reserved

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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