WASHINGTON — Cleanup workers, doctors, divers and Gulf Coast residents interviewed by a Washington watchdog group have reported health problems from the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill, including blood in the urine, heart palpitations, kidney and liver damage, migraines, memory loss and reduced IQ.
A dispersant plane was photographed April 27, 2010 passing an oil skimmer working to clean the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. ( Associated Press archive)
An advocacy group for whistleblowers inside and outside government, the Government Accountability Project said that official statements from representatives of BP and the federal government about the potential dangers of chemical dispersants were false and misleading.
“Apparently, BP and the federal government intend to make Corexit’s application the standard operating procedure for oil spill cleanups,” said GAP investigator Shanna Devine, lead author of the report released Wednesday morning. “We’ve found, however, that Corexit’s use led to terrible effects on human health and the environment.”
BP spokesman Scott Dean said, “Use of dispersants during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill response was coordinated with and approved by federal agencies including the US Coast Guard and EPA. Based on extensive monitoring conducted by BP and the federal agencies, BP is not aware of any data showing worker or public exposures to dispersants at levels that would pose a health or safety concern.”
Calls to the Environmental Protection Agency for comment were not immediately returned.
Devine said GAP “compiled evidence that suggest a higher than normal frequency of seafood mutations and pockets of dead ocean areas where life was previously abundant.”
GAP said documents and statements from cleanup workers and others suggests that Corexit gave the impression it was causing the oil to disappear, but the oil because “less visible, yet more toxic.”
According to the GAP report:
Federally required worker resource manuals detailing Corexit’s potential health hazards were either not delivered or removed from BP worksites early in the clean-up, as health problems began.
A government agency regulation prohibited diving during the spill due to concerns about potential health risks. Yet, the Government Accountability Project said, divers contracted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration were told it was safe to go deep into Gulf waters without protective equipment,.
Nearly half the cleanup workers interviewed reported that they were threatened with termination when they tried to wear respirators or additional safety equipment.
Jorey Danos, a cleanup worker, told GAP that when he told a BP representative he’d like a respirator, he was told: “If you wear a respirator, it is bringing attention to yourself because no one else is wearing respirators. And you can get fired for that.”
In another affidavit, Kindra Arnesen, described as a Louisiana resident, said the national director of the Children’s Health Fund found a medical chest full of nebulizers during a visit to Boothville Elementary School in Plaquemines Parish.
“Where’s the red flag,” Arnesen said in her affidavit. “What is causing that many breathing problems with that number of kids? That is abnormal. At Boothville Elementary, we have sick kids all over the place who are suffering from upper respiratory infections, severe asthma, skin infections, blisters in between their fingers and arms on their legs and their feet…These kids were fine before the spill and the spraying of Corexit began.”
Dr. Michael Robichaux said he found similar symptoms among patients who had been exposed to Corexit. The symptoms, he said, “were different from anything that I had ever observed in my 40 plus years as a physician.”
“However, until people are educated about the symptoms associated with exposure to toxic waste from the spill, we cannot assume they will make the connection,” he said. “I continue to witness this disconnect and these symptoms on a daily basis.”
GAP received research help and other assistance from the Louisiana Environmental Action Network.