Archives for posts with tag: Gulf oil spill

From Living On Earth (portions of radio discussion of the “the health effects of the deepwater disaster”):

GELLERMAN: . . . . It’s been more than six months since BP finally capped its runaway oil well in the Gulf of Mexico. But now come reports of a wave of illnesses and puzzling symptoms from some residents along the Gulf Coast. Their blood contains high levels of chemicals found in oil and the dispersants that were used to clean up the mess.

Many who are suffering say firm answers and adequate treatment are hard to come by, and there’s a growing sense of frustration with government agencies and the medical community. Living on Earth’s Jeff Young has the first part of our special report: “Toxic Tide – Discovering the Health Effects of the Deepwater Disaster”.

[HEARING: OIL SPILL COMMISSIONER DON BOESCH Okay, questions and comments from the floor…]

YOUNG: When the National Oil Spill Commission presented its final report in New Orleans, commissioners expected to get an earful from rig workers and fishermen worried about their jobs. Instead they heard speaker after speaker worried about something else: their health.

SPEAKER 1: I worked 60 days on the frontline for BP out here. I’m sick today, nobody wants to take care of me.

SPEAKER 2: The issue is ongoing; people are getting sick and dying.

SPEAKER 3: I have seen small children with lesions all over their body. We are very, very ill. And there’s a very good chance now that I won’t get to see my grandbabies.

YOUNG: Some had worked cleaning up the oil, others lived in or had visited places where oil washed ashore. All complained of mysterious ailments that arose after the spill.

Robin Young was one of those who spoke out. She manages vacation rental properties in Orange Beach, Alabama, where she has lived for 10 years.

When the spill started, Young helped form a citizen group called Guardians of the Gulf. At first, the group was not focused on health issues. Then, people, including Young, started getting sick.

R YOUNG: Headaches, I would get nauseous – and these are all things that I don’t normally experience at all, I’ve always been very, very, very healthy. Then the coughing – I coughed up so much nasty looking mess.

J YOUNG: Young says symptoms started after she spent a day near the water in June and she still hasn’t fully recovered. She heard from others in her community and across the Gulf coast with similar problems.

* * *

J YOUNG: Young’s group paid for more blood sampling. The Louisiana Environmental Action network asked biochemist and MacArthur grant winner Wilma Subra to analyze the results. The blood samples came from cleanup workers, crabbers, a diver who’d been in oiled water, and at least two children who live on the coast. All had reported recent health problems. Subra compared the levels of volatile organic compounds in those samples to a national database of VOC’s in blood compiled by the National Center for Health Statistics.

SUBRA: They’re as much as 5 to 10 times what you’d find in the normal population. And again, these are chemicals that relate back to chemicals in the BP crude and the dispersants.

* * *

SUBRA: I think it’s demonstrating that the chemicals they are being exposed to are showing up in their blood. We’ve briefed the federal agencies on it, tried to get them interested – they are evaluating the results. And I think there’s a lot of frustration in the community members across the coastal areas. They are really requesting answers.

* * *

YOUNG: Solid answers will take time. There’s little in the scientific literature on long term health effects of oil spills. In March the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences plans to start enrolling Gulf spill cleanup workers in a long-term health study. The principal investigator is Dale Sandler, chief of epidemiology at NIEHS. She hopes to track some 55,000 subjects for at least five years.

SANDLER: This will be by far the largest study of individuals exposed during an oil spill disaster that’s ever been conducted. So we have been moving heaven and earth to make this go quickly.

YOUNG: Sandler’s study has funding, thanks in part to BP. The study is a few months behind its original schedule. But researchers face another hurdle that may prove more difficult. Signing up tens of thousands of participants and getting people to accept results depends on credibility and trust. After the BP spill and Hurricane Katrina, trust is in low supply on the Gulf Coast. Here’s how Orange Beach Mayor Tony Kinnon sums up the attitude.

KINNON: The bottom line is very few people trust governmental agencies. They think there’s this incestuous relationship between BP and the government, and I tend to agree with them.

J YOUNG: And even as Robin Young asks the government to help her community, the plea comes with a note of deep suspicion.

RYOUNG: I hate to sound like a conspiracy theorist – that’s what I’m starting to feel like. Because it’s hard to believe that something like this is going on in the United States and no one’s helping.

More . . .

Link to Living on Earth podcast.

Wilma Subra’s analysis of blood samples from sick Gulf Coast residents.

The NIEHS plan for a large-scale, long-term study of cleanup workers.

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From Green (New York Times Blog):

In the wake of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, BP sought and obtained permission to use dispersants, detergent-like compounds, to break up the 200 million gallons of Louisiana sweet crude, into tiny droplets that would mix throughout the water column, trying to lessen the immediate impact of the oil slick on fragile coastal ecosystems.

* * *

A review has now been published by Earthjustice, in collaboration with Toxipedia, an online toxicology Wiki, of all the scientific literature concerning the potential health impacts of these 57 chemicals. The report finds that “Of the 57 ingredients: 5 chemicals are associated with cancer; 33 are associated with skin irritation from rashes to burns; 33 are linked to eye irritation; 11 are or are suspected of being potential respiratory toxins or irritants; 10 are suspected kidney toxins; 8 are suspected or known to be toxic to aquatic organisms; and 5 are suspected to have a moderate acute toxicity to fish.”

While words like “associated with” or “linked to” may sound weak and unconvincing, the syntax highlights just how little is actually known about these chemicals. For 13 of the dispersant ingredients, no relevant data could be found.

“BP had a particular set of dispersants on hand and no one at the time seemed to know if they were safe, whether they were safer than other dispersants products that could be used or even whether they were safer for people and the environment than oil alone,” said Marianne Engelman Lado, a lawyer with Earthjustice. “BP chose Corexit because it was the dispersant on hand, not because it was the safest. However, regulation of dispersants is so inadequate that BP didn’t have enough information to figure out how it compared with other dispersants or oil alone.”

Nick Thorp, a project manager at Toxipedia, said:

There is just not a lot known about these chemicals and their linkages to potential health impacts. More research is really necessary to determine what exposure levels are, and aren’t safe. Ideally these questions would have been answered before the dispersants were approved for use. We’re now backtracking trying to answer these questions, after the public and the environment have already been exposed.

Earthjustice is calling for “more research, greater disclosure of the information that is known, comprehensive toxicity testing, establishment of safety criteria for dispersants, and careful selection of the least toxic dispersants for application in oil spill response.”

More.

Download Complete Report: The Chaos Of Clean-Up

Related Websites:

From the Associated Press:

A provocative documentary screened Tuesday at the Cannes Film Festival argues that the human and environmental devastation of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill has been covered up by authorities eager to return to business as usual.

“The Big Fix,” by husband-and-wife American directors Josh and Rebecca Tickell, features interviews with Louisiana fishing families whose livelihoods and health have been hit by the spill, then expands into a sweeping critique of American capitalism.

The title cuts two ways: the movie argues the U.S. political and economic system is rigged, and huge changes are required to correct it.

Josh Tickell, whose last film was another oil-related documentary, “Fuel,” said the current movie argues that “screwing in a light bulb or buying a hybrid car are not going to change the relationship between the government, the energy industry and the financial sector.”

“It’s like playing cards, and the house has the deck stacked against you,” Tickell told The Associated Press.

“The Big Fix” has high-profile support from Tim Robbins and Peter Fonda, executive producers on the movie. Fonda also appears in the film, which is sure to be strongly criticized by the energy industry.

The film disputes industry claims that the millions gallons of oil spilled after the April 22, 2010, explosion on the BP PLC-owned Deepwater Horizon rig have largely been cleaned up or dispersed.

It says a huge undersea slick is poisoning the ocean and that chemical dispersants used to break up the oil are harming the region’s residents, many of whom say they have developed blisters, rashes and respiratory problems.

BP and the U.S. government have said the use of the main chemical, Corexit, was the best option in the circumstances.

BP said Tuesday that it “worked hand-in-hand with and under the direction of the Coast Guard and the EPA (the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) on the use of dispersants.”

Made in the polemical documentary style popularized by Michael Moore, “The Big Fix” depicts Louisiana as a petro-state controlled by oil companies, and Washington politicians as in hock to powerful lobbyists.

More.

From Greenwire:

One word could describe U.S. EPA’s oversight of BP PLC’s decision to pour 1.84 million gallons of oil-dispersing chemicals into the Gulf of Mexico during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill: uncertain.

Responding to growing public unease last year over BP’s strategy of fighting a massive chemical spill with more chemicals, EPA flexed its regulatory muscle. The result was not confidence-inspiring: a shoving match between the world’s largest environmental regulator and one of the world’s largest oil companies that showed how little the regulators understood about oil dispersants.

One year later, scientists say little has changed.

Decisionmaking about the use of dispersants to combat the oil pouring out of the Macondo well 5,000 feet below the Gulf surface were driven more by politics, circumstances of supply and availability, and educated guesswork than by informed science, experts say.

More.

From The Independent:

Jamie Simon worked on a barge in the oily waters for six months following the BP spill last year, cooking for the cleanup workers, washing their clothes and tidying up after them.

One year later, the 32-year-old said she still suffers from a range of debilitating health problems, including racing heartbeat, vomiting, dizziness, ear infections, swollen throat, poor sight in one eye and memory loss.

She blames toxic elements in the crude oil and the dispersants sprayed to dissolve it after the BP-leased Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico about 50 miles (80 kilometers) off the coast of Louisiana on April 20, 2010.

“I was exposed to those chemicals, which I questioned, and they told me it was just as safe as Dawn dishwashing liquid and there was nothing for me to worry about,” she said of the BP bosses at the job site.

The local doctor, Mike Robichaux, said he has seen as many as 60 patients like Simon in recent weeks, as this small southern town of 10,000 bordered by swamp land and sugar cane fields grapples with a mysterious sickness that some believe is all BP’s fault.

Andy LaBoeuf, 51, said he was paid $1,500 per day to use his boat to go out on the water and lay boom to contain some of the 4.9 million barrels of oil that spewed from the bottom of the ocean after the BP well ruptured.

But four months of that job left him ill and unable to work, and he said he recently had to refinance his home loan because he could not pay his taxes.

“I have just been sick for a long time. I just got sick and I couldn’t get better,” LaBoeuf said, describing memory problems and a sore throat that has nagged him for a year.

Robichaux, an ear, nose and throat specialist whose office an hour’s drive southwest of New Orleans is nestled on a roadside marked with handwritten signs advertising turtle meat for sale, says he is treating many of the local patients in their homes.

“Their work ethic is so strong, they are so stoic, they don’t want people to know when they’re sick,” he said.

“Ninety percent of them are getting worse… Nobody has a clue as to what it is.”

* * *

Some similar symptoms, including eye irritation, breathing problems, nausea and psychological stress, have been seen among responders to the Prestige oil tanker spill off Spain in 2002 and the Exxon Valdez spill in 1989 off Alaska.

Local chemist Wilma Subra has been helping test people’s blood for volatile solvents, and said levels of benzene among cleanup workers, divers, fishermen and crabbers are as high as 36 times that of the general population.

“As the event progresses we are seeing more and more people who are desperately ill,” she said.

“Clearly it is showing that this is ongoing exposure,” Subra said, noting that pathways include contact with the skin, eating contaminated seafood or breathing polluted air.

“We have been asking the federal agencies to please provide medical care from physicians who are trained in toxic exposure.”

She said she has received no response.

More.

From NRDCflix:

NRDC partnered with StoryCorps and Bridge the Gulf to record, share, and preserve the stories and experiences of those living through the BP oil disaster. Find out more at http://www.nrdc.org/storycorps.

From Alliance for Justice, here is a 17-minute video that “examines the ongoing search for justice among the victims of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.”

Vodpod videos no longer available.

From Alliance for Justice:

Shot on location in Louisiana, this film explores the damage done by this unimaginable environmental calamity to the lives and livelihoods of the people who depend on the waters of the Gulf of Mexico for their income, their food, and the continuation of their culture. Titled Crude Justice, the 17-minute documentary looks at the difficulties ordinary people face in finding fair compensation and a secure future for their families in the face of corporate domination of the courts, statutes favoring big business, judges with ties to the oil and gas industries, and the uncertainties that accompany an incident where the long-term effects may not be known for years. Crude Justice tells the story of damaged lives, but also of the fighting spirit and resilience of people who understand that what’s threatened is not just justice for the victims of the spill, but the integrity of the American judicial system itself.

 

ProPublica: Furious growth and cost cuts led to BP accidents past and present.

Jeanne Pascal turned on her TV April 21 to see a towering spindle of black smoke slithering into the sky from an oil platform on the oceanic expanse of the Gulf of Mexico. For hours she sat, transfixed on an overstuffed couch in her Seattle home, her feelings shifting from shock to anger.

Pascal, a career Environmental Protection Agency attorney only seven weeks into her retirement, knew as much as anyone in the federal government about BP, the company that owned the well. She understood in an instant what it would take others months to grasp: In BP’s 15-year quest to compete with the world’s biggest oil companies, its managers had become deaf to risk and systematically gambled with safety at hundreds of facilities and with thousands of employees’ lives.

“God, they just don’t learn,” she remembers thinking.

Just weeks before the explosion, President Obama had announced a historic expansion of deep-water drilling in the Gulf, where BP held the majority of the drilling leases. The administration considered the environmental record of drilling companies in the Gulf to be excellent. It didn’t ask questions about BP, and it didn’t consider that the company’s long record of safety violations and environmental accidents might be important, according to Carol Browner, the White House environmental adviser.

They could have asked Jeanne Pascal.

For 12 years, Pascal had wrestled with whether BP’s pattern of misconduct should disqualify it from receiving billions of dollars in government contracts and other benefits. Federal law empowers government officials to “debar”—ban from government business—companies that commit fraud or break the law too many times. Pascal was a senior EPA debarment attorney for the Northwest, and her job was to act as a sort of behind-the-scenes babysitter for companies facing debarment. She worked with their top management, reviewed records and made sure they were good corporate citizens entitled to government contracts.

At first, Pascal thought BP would be another routine assignment. Over the years she’d persuaded hundreds of troubled energy, mining and waste-disposal companies to quickly change their behavior. But BP was in its own league. On her watch she would see BP charged with four federal crimes—more than any other oil company in her experience—and demonstrate what she described as a pattern of disregard for regulations and for the EPA. By late 2009 she was warning the government and BP executives themselves that the company’s approach to safety and environmental issues made another disaster likely.

A close look by ProPublica and PBS FRONTLINE at BP’s explosive growth corroborated and expanded on Pascal’s concerns. The investigation found that as BP transformed itself into the world’s third largest private oil company it methodically emphasized a culture of austerity in pursuit of corporate efficiency, lean budgets and shareholder profits. It acquired large companies that it could not integrate smoothly. Current and former workers and executives said the company repeatedly cut corners, let alarm and safety systems languish and skipped essential maintenance that could have prevented a number of explosions and spills. Internal BP documents support these claims.

More.

You can watch “The Spill,” a PBS FRONTLINE documentary drawn from this reporting  here.

A clip:

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