Do you remember the Deepwater Horizon disaster of 2010? It was all over the news for months and months… and then seemed to simply disappear from the media once BP announced they’d stopped up the gushing oil well.
Whistleblowers are claiming that’s no mistake — and in a recent report from the Government Accountability Project, cleanup crew members have painted a sinister picture. To obscure the true amount of oil spraying into the Gulf on a daily basis, they say, BP immediately began unleashing huge amounts of dispersant. Over 1.84 million gallons of the stuff.
The problem? The dispersant used by BP, a chemical called Corexit, is known to be highly toxic to humans. Exposure can cause a laundry list of symptoms, including kidney and liver damage, seizures, memory loss, and even cancer.
Not only were as many as 47,000 workers potentially exposed to this dangerous chemical, but former oil cleanup crew are reporting that BP intentionally withheld information on how to safely handle Corexit and failed to provide any sort of protective gear to workers.
One maid tasked with cleaning a mixture of seawater, Corexit, and crude oil from the floors of BP’s “floating hotel” for workers was told the dispersant was “as safe as Dawn dishwashing liquid.” But within days of exposure, she found herself coughing up blood suffering from nonstop headaches. Her symptoms only continued to get worse with time, transforming into uncontrollable muscle spasms, a severe loss of short-term memory, and even random swelling of her leg that would come and go.
Cleanup workers on the water claim they were literally hosed down with Corexit by planes overhead during the day. When they complained about the caustic fumes and asked for respirators and protective clothing, supervisors threatened to fire them.
Even government-contracted scientists are reporting health problems from Corexit exposure. One diver, Steve Kolian, was part of a team assigned to assess the impact the spill might have on surrounding marine life. He claims that officials from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration assured him that it was perfectly safe to swim in Corexit-treated water — and suggests the agency may have been collaborating with BP to downplay the toxic effects of the dispersant. In the years since the spill, he’s experienced painful skin rashes and peeling, dizziness, nausea, bloody stools, and cognitive issues.
The GAP report is filled with similar stories — and, in the end, concludes that the use of Corexit to clean up the spill has been more harmful to human health and marine life than the crude oil alone would have been. In light of the report, GAP and its partners in the Gulf are demanding that the EPA ban Corexit from use in future cleanup efforts. They’re also trying to establish medical treatment programs to help the thousands of people now suffering from what they’re calling “BP Syndrome.”
Want to know what you can do to seek justice for the workers BP poisoned with Corexit? Read the full GAP report here, and then sign the petition to ban Corexit for good.
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.