Oil Spill Cleanup Workers Face Health Risks

| 7/9/2010 2:02:20 PM

Hundreds of Gulf Coast oil spill workers are falling ill. On the surface, their symptoms resemble the flu (headaches, nausea, coughing, vomiting), but these illnesses are eerily similar to the health problems that thousands of Exxon-Valdez cleanup employees encountered in 1989. Hundreds suffered severe health consequences, even years after the spill. Those who experience oil-related illnesses can suffer respiratory and nervous system issues that can haunt workers for years afterward before culminating in an early death. Reports from down south have indicated that BP is not providing the necessary safety equipment to shield Gulf Coast workers from a similar fate.

In the Exxon-Valdez spill, some workers lost much of their breathing capacity and suffered from memory loss and various cancers. In fact, the average lifespan of an Exxon-Valdez worker was 51 years, according to a CNN report. About two dozen former workers filed health lawsuits against Exxon. Seven settled out of court — one received $2 million — and eight were dismissed by judges.

The Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals released a report last month stating that 162 workers had fallen ill with symptoms related to the oil or chemical dispersants, and a Pensacola news source stated that more than 400 have sought medical attention for nausea, eye irritation, headaches and respiratory issues. Business Insider called the collection of chemicals and pollutants in the Gulf a “'toxic soup' of oil, methane, benzene, hydrogen sulfide, other toxic gases and very poisonous chemical dispersants.” The EPA has recently declared that some areas along the Gulf Coast pose a health risk to vulnerable people.

Although short-term oil exposure is relatively safe, close long-term exposure can cause oracular, neural and dermatological damage. However, the long-term data on health risks simply is not sufficient for us to conclusively know exactly what the effects are. Of more than 400 oil spills since the 1960s, only seven were ever studied for health effects. Workers at the highest risk were exposed to oil for more than 20 days and worked closely with it in highly polluted areas. 

Various news sources have questioned whether or not BP is providing proper protective equipment to cleanup workers. Though BP says workers who need safety gear will get it, BP spokesman Graham MacEwen told Yahoo! News, "We haven't provided respirators or masks because all the environmental data shows the air is safe." An MSNBC story reported that cleanup workers were threatened with losing their jobs if they wore respirators.

A coalition called BP Makes Me Sick has a petition you can sign to stop BP from blocking respirators from workers.

Merle Savage
7/19/2010 4:44:39 PM

Great, the oil has stopped for now, however, Crude oil continues to invade the Gulf; as BP, the US Government, and other official agencies monitoring the toxic crude, continues to FIDDLE. That is what I called the Dance of Deliberate Deception. No one will come forward with the intestinal fortitude, and declare the obvious - that crude oil is toxic to breathe. I have been told by OSHA that a medical study cannot be conducted until after 6 months of exposure. WHAT? There have been 21 years since the exposure of the crude oil in Prince William Sound, and no one is listening. So, after 6 months of workers in the gulf breathe in the crude oil, a study can be conducted? That leads me to believe that the government is holding up the rug, while BP sweeps known reports under the same rug, and the other agencies conduct the Dance of Deliberate Deception on top of the rug. President Obama, how about admitting that the crude oil is toxic, and demand BP provide respirators for the oil cleanup workers, and compensation for the Gulf unemployment caused by the disaster. In 1989 Exxon told the cleanup workers the same story, that the crude oil is not toxic. Some of us are living proof of the toxic exposure, and many others have died. Please view the YouTube video, and help get the message to Gulf residents, BP crude oil cleanup workers, and President Obama. Respirators need to be supplied to oil cleanup crews. Thank you. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5M1J7U2GYA0

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