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.
The continuing story of Banking fraud that you must pay for
(Washington, DC) – Labaton Sucharow LLP and the Government Accountability Project (GAP) announce their representation of a whistleblower who is alleging multi-billion dollar securities violations at Deutsche Bank, the Germany-based global investment bank. The alleged misconduct was first publicly disclosed in an article published online by the Financial Times. Dr. Eric Ben-Artzi is believed to be the first SEC whistleblower to share his story publicly.
Ben-Artzi, a former Quantitative Risk Analyst at Deutsche Bank responded, “I never wanted or expected to be a whistleblower. I reported internally first and extensively, in accordance with bank policies and procedures. As the problem was not acknowledged or corrected, I felt compelled to inform the proper law enforcement authorities. Unfortunately, my family and I are paying a heavy price for doing the right thing.”
Reported Securities Violations
Dr. Ben-Artzi discovered and internally reported possible securities violations stemming from Deutsche Bank’s failure to accurately report the value of its credit derivatives portfolio. Specifically, between mid-2007 and 2010, the bank failed to properly value the gap option component in its portfolio of Leveraged Super Senior (“LSS”) tranches of credit derivatives. The gap option is the difference between the collateral paid by the LSS note buyer and the mark-to-market expected loss that the LSS note seller agreed to cover. With a $120-$130 billion portfolio in notional value, Deutsche Bank was the largest holder of LSS trades in the marketplace. By not accurately valuing it, the bank was able to maintain its carefully crafted public image that it was weathering the financial crisis better than its peers – many of which required financial assistance from the government and experienced significant deterioration in their stock prices. Even using conservative assumptions, if the LSS portfolio had been properly valued, the bank would have substantially missed its earnings estimates. Due to these material misrepresentations, countless investors may have been harmed.
Deeply troubled by the bank’s unwillingness to acknowledge and appropriately address this significant valuation problem, Dr. Ben-Artzi sought legal representation from Labaton Sucharow and reported the possible securities violations to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission through the SEC Whistleblower Program. The program, established by the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act in July 2010, has broad international reach and offers eligible whistleblowers significant employment protections, monetary awards and the ability to report anonymously.
Dr. Eric Ben-Artzi has worked in positions of significant responsibility at major financial institutions. He has unique expertise with the models, assumptions and calculations necessary to properly value and assess risk associated with derivatives. Earlier, he earned his Ph.D. from the Courant Institute at New York University where he also taught undergraduate courses in mathematics and financial engineering.
“When Dr. Ben-Artzi first consulted with me, I was shocked by the size and scope of the alleged misconduct,” said Jordan Thomas, a former SEC Assistant Director and Chair of the Whistleblower Representation Practice at Labaton Sucharow. “This is exactly the type of significant and unreported securities violations that the SEC Whistleblower Program was intended to address. It is one of many high-profile matters in the pipeline.”
Dr. Ben-Artzi repeatedly attempted to work through internal reporting channels, at increasingly higher levels, to correct the valuation problem. As alleged in his retaliation complaint filed with the Department of Labor, when he pressed his concerns further, he was subjected to severe hostility, isolated, denied access to records necessary to perform his job, lost his job independence and was stripped of responsibilities. In November 2011, shortly after returning from paternity leave, Deutsche Bank informed Dr. Ben-Artzi that his position had been moved to Europe and laid him off without warning, the chance to move with his job, or a real opportunity to find a new position within the financial institution. At all times prior to this illegal employment action, Dr. Ben-Artzi had received favorable performance reviews, and when laid off, was being recruited to work in other groups within the bank due to his professional expertise and reputation. Accordingly, GAP agreed to represent Dr. Ben-Artzi in his retaliation case, alleging violations of the whistleblower protection provisions contained within the Sarbanes-Oxley Act.
Tom Devine, GAP Legal Director and author of the award-winning Corporate Whistleblower’s Survival Guide, commented: “This is a classic illustration of what whistleblowers risk when trying to work within the system at firms acting in bad faith. Dr. Ben-Artzi was a model corporate citizen who discovered SEC violations that could incur serious liability, and stuck his neck out internally to warn bank management. Deutsche Bank’s response was to personally harass him, and fire him as soon as it pinned down what he knew. The retaliation was crude, and not camouflaged. Quite clearly, the point was to scare other would-be whistleblowers into silence. The lesson learned is that working within Deutsche Bank’s corporate compliance and reporting system is an act of professional suicide.”
Bank Employee ‘Know Your Rights’ Campaign
In October, GAP launched a nationwide educational campaign aimed at employees of large banks and financial institutions. This educational Know Your Rights campaign, one of the first major coordinated national efforts of its kind, seeks to inform workers of whistleblower protections and incentives that potentially apply to them, if they have witnessed or are aware of wrongdoing. Among other things, tens of thousands of leaflets were distributed at banks and financial intuitions in 15 major cities across the country, informing workers of their protections.
Dr. Ben-Artzi’s case serves as a great example of the need for this important public awareness campaign. More information can be found at http://www.BankWhistleblower.org.
Labaton Sucharow, one of the nation’s premier law firms, has been a champion of investor and consumer rights for close to 50 years. It was the first law firm in the country to establish a practice exclusively focused on protecting and advocating for whistleblowers who report possible violations of the securities laws. Building on the firm’s top ranked securities litigation platform, the Whistleblower Representation Practice leverages a world-class in-house team of investigators, financial analysts, and forensic accountants with federal and state law enforcement experience to provide unparalleled representation for whistleblowers.
The Government Accountability Project is the nation’s leading whistleblower protection organization. Through litigating whistleblower cases, publicizing concerns and developing legal reforms, GAP’s mission is to protect the public interest by promoting government and corporate accountability. Founded in 1977, GAP is a non-profit, non-partisan advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C.
Dylan Blaylock is Communications Director for the Government Accountability Project, the nation’s leading whistleblower protection and advocacy organization.