Just Like 9/11? Oil Spill Responders Are Getting Sick … But Are Being Told They Don’t Need Any Safety Gear
May 19, 2010
The U.S. government suppressed health information after 9/11. For
example, as Newsday noted
In the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the World Trade Center,
the White House instructed the Environmental Protection Agency to give the
public misleading information, telling New Yorkers it was safe to breathe
when reliable information on air quality was not available.
That finding is included in a report released Friday by the Office of the
Inspector General of the EPA.
The same thing appears to be happening in connection with the Gulf oil spill.
Specifically, marine toxicologist Ricki Ott writes:
Local fishermen hired to work on BP’s uncontrolled oil leak in the Gulf
of Mexico are scared and confused. Fishermen here and in other small communities
dotting the southern marshes and swamplands of Barataria Bay are getting sick
from the working on the cleanup, yet BP is assuring them they don’t need respirators
or other special protection from the crude oil, strong hydrocarbon vapors,
or chemical dispersants being sprayed in massive quantities on the oil slick.
Fishermen have never seen the results from the air-quality monitoring patches
some of them wear on their rain gear when they are out booming and skimming
the giant oil slick. However, more and more fishermen are suffering from bad
headaches, burning eyes, persistent coughs, sore throats, stuffy sinuses,
nausea, and dizziness. They are starting to suspect that BP is not telling
them the truth.
And based on air monitoring conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency
(EPA) in a Louisiana coastal community, those workers seem to be correct.
The EPA findings
show that airborne levels of toxic chemicals like hydrogen sulfide, and
volatile organic compounds like benzene, for instance, now far exceed safety
standards for human exposure.
There is no excuse for sick people. BP and the federal agencies charged
with worker safety know that the risks of working on a hazardous waste cleanup
are extraordinarily high and that it will take a concerted effort to keep
workers safe and healthy. Further, it will take an equally extraordinary effort
by BP and the federal government to protect public health in coastal communities
downwind or downstream from the toxic stew in the Gulf.
Yet I don’t see either BP or the federal government taking sufficient–or
any–action to prevent human tragedy in the form of acute and likely long-term
illnesses from its uncontrolled leak.
Update: McClatchy is reporting on some of these issues today.