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Originally seven, now at least nine, fishermen in the clean-up attempts for the Gulf Oil Spill have been hospitalized.
The Coast Guard called a temporary halt to efforts after seven oil spill workers, who were skimming oil from waters close to shore, were hospitalized for dizziness, headaches and nausea. Media reports say that “air tests [in the Gulf] had found all chemicals within safety limits” prior to boats going out on Wednesday to skim oil from Breton Sound; that statement would seem strange and incongruent, considering that all of the 125 boats being utilized to help in oil recovery efforts off of Louisiana's Breton Sound were ordered docked, while authorities investigated the illness, says the Coast Guard.
As to what those “air tests” were, how they were administered, and by whom they were administered isn’t clear. Five oil spill clean-up workers were released from the hospital Thursday, while two were kept for observation, according to Coast Guard Capt. Meredith Austin as spokeswoman. Crewmen and their relatives blame chemical dispersants used for clean-up, and an ER doctor said the symptoms shown, which include weakness, rashes and coughs, are typical signs of chemical exposure, say West Jefferson Medical Center spokeswoman Alfonzo.
The Coast Guard’s Austin claims that no dispersants (Corexit) had been used (sprayed) within 50 miles of the ill crewmen that were hospitalized. She says fatigue, working in hot weather, dehydration and "even the smell of petroleum" can bring on similar symptoms. "We're not saying this to discount what happened to our people…but I just wanted to point out that there are other factors," Austin said.
More fishermen have been hospitalized or are reporting illness, related to BP oil spill, since. Gulf residents and families claim that the media has been portraying the Gulf oil clean-up sickness of fishermen as a result of stress, heat, and exposure to chemicals. CNN has reported:
“stress combined with heat and exposure to chemicals could be among the factors that sent seven Gulf fishermen who were helping with oil cleanup to the hospital Wednesday, experts say…..The cleanup workers’ complaints of dizziness, nausea and headaches prompted authorities to pull all vessels off the water Wednesday.”
Audrey Gaspard said, in video footage that was released by the hospital, that her husband and son experienced elevated blood pressure. Gaspard said her son also had chest pains and headache.
Shrimper Clint Guidry says clean-up workers who are fisherman had told him that they were not being given respirators — that not even those working in the most dangerous area, closest to the well still spewing oil into the Gulf of Mexico, were not issued respiratory equipment.
The hospital’s spokesperson, Alfonzo, issued statement that treated patients and relatives had all refused to talk directly to media reporters. Possibly they'd received threats not to speak to reporters.
Wednesday night, authorities say that four oil spill clean-up workers, on three boats on Breton Sound, southeast of New Orleans, had become phsyically ill, an area housing wildlife refuges. The Coast Guard’s Austin says the men performing the oil spill clean-up efforts had been issued protective suits, gloves, hard hats, safety glasses, steel-toed boots and life jackets. "They were not issued respiratory protection because air readings were taken and no values found at an unsafe level prior to sending them out there," she said.
Potential hazards faced by clean-up workers include not only the hazards of the spill itself, but also the “remedy” to that disaster: humans are being exposed to benzene, a chemical found in crude oil, as well as the dispersants that have been sprayed on the spill in order to break the oil into smaller droplets. Shrimper Clint Guidry says clean-up workers who are fisherman had told him that they were not being given respirators — that not even those working in the most dangerous area, closest to the well still spewing oil into the Gulf of Mexico, were not issued respiratory equipment.
BP spokesman Darren Beaudo denies the lack of respiratory equipment allegation, claiming that respirators were issued to crews of all boats working what the company deems "source control" close to the well, and that clean-up crews were trained to use them [the respirators] if necessary.
What, exactly, defines “necessary”?
BP spokesman Darren Beaudo claims there is constant air quality monitoring by boats in that area and on wearable "badges" worn by supervisors on boats in areas judged the most dangerous, generally finding safe levels of benzene and other volatile organic compounds. “Generally” finding safe levels? It's not been made clear as to whom is performing air tests, how frequently air tests are performed, what (if any) standards those air tests meet, or even the type of airs tests BP says are being used.
BP claims that repeated air tests showed that respirators weren't needed for clean-up crews working to clean oil or lay boom closer to shore, Beaudo says. "Folks working those crews are not expected or trained to work in circumstances that would require respirators. If they were in that sort of situation they would be removed immediately.”
Fisherman Guidry maintains that respirators have not been provided by BP or even allowed, and that "when some individuals [workers to clean up the oil spill] brought their own respirators, they were told by BP representatives on site that if they wore the respirators they would be released from the job."
BP’s Beaudo responded: "I'm not aware that that [threat of job loss] has happened. It would be contradictory to our [BP] approach to safety." Not sure whether it's happended?
There’s usually a yes, or a no, involved. Beaudo said anyone would be free to use a mask meeting OSHA specifications.
Short-term benzene oil exposure causes drowsiness, dizziness, tremors, confusion, rapid heartbeat, headaches and — at very high levels — unconsciousness and death, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
George Barisich, president of United Commercial Fisherman's Association, called the official account of illnesses "a pack of lies," saying that at least nine fisherman were treated in hospital Wednesday, while dozens more have worked through sickness brought on by the spill’s clean-up operation.
And NASA just might agree with that interpretation: NASA and partner scientists have studied the Gulf of Mexico through remote sensing for years, in a multi-million dollar project involving two different instruments on three satellites. One is MODIS (Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer), flying on the Terra and Aqua satellites. The other, CALIOP (Cloud-Aerosol Lidar with Orthogonal Polarization), an instrument used on the Cloud-Aerosol Lidar and Infrared Pathfinder Satellite Observation (CALIPSO) satellite.
CALIOP measures volatile organic compounds (VOC) in the air. The attached image of the CALIOP shows satellite view of the Deepwater Horizon Gulf oil spill on May 2, 2010. Red indicates the location of the aerosols over the spill. (NASA) "MODIS provided an unparalleled view of the entire oil spill and CALIOP gave a pretty good perspective of the layers of volatile organic compounds (VOCs, an oil byproduct) that occurred over the spill, helping us to identify the extent of the spill," said Gallegos.
When the oil reaches the surface of the water it comes into contact with the air and releases VOCs. Researchers at first thought they were seeing emissions related to efforts to burn off surface oil, in data being sent from CALIPSO. However, once Gallegos was there in person, she saw that the emissions were actually volatile compounds released from oil at the surface. “I am not qualified to interpret the data signature, but the fact they are being picked up with remote sensing says they are there in significant quantities.
The question is not whether VOC are there. The question is how much and how deadly. This is doubly troubling because VOC are not something you would expect to see in significant concentrations over open water.”
On physical land, the EPA was recording particulate air samples with 3 ppm-more than half the EPA limit. Those numbers and data could be hundreds of times higher over the actual oil spill area itself. Consistent with the aftermath of 9-11, the problem is not just particulates. Volatile organic compounds are toxic. The danger this represents to anyone working in the toxic zone is well-known, well-documented, and well-understood.
Gulf residents believe that British Petroleum is again exercising willful negligence through not supplying workers with respirators-in a pattern believed to be placing concern for profits and finances above that of concern for people.
The boats working the Gulf oil spill clean-up efforts are called “vessels of opportunity”. Many believe BP is using desperate, out-of-work fisherman and boat owners as one more way of externalizing company costs. Gulf residents say British Petroleum knows the clean-up is dangerous work-that the company is piggybacking on boat owner's insurance. For those signing up for BP’s program, terms indicate: “Vessel insurance is not required, but is strongly suggested. If your vessel is damaged, it is not covered under BP’s insurance, as you are considered an independent contractor,” or essentially an employee at will.
Those concerned say that the BP terms mean that BP is insinuating that those workers involved in the oil spill clean-up efforts don’t have to accept the clean-up job, meaning the workers and fishermen are also accepting any involved risk and liability associated with the oil spill they're cleaning. The concern is that the after-effects for those involved in the oil spill clean-up could mean a literal “death sentence”.
Locals say that the Gulf’s fishermen are used to hard work, long hours, and heat, that what their bodies are not used to are chemicals coming from the oil-and the oil dispersant that residents say is killing the Gulf. Hospitalized fishermen include reports of respiratory complaints and illness. “It’s like sniffing gasoline,” a Gulf-area fisherman says, regarding the oil and oil dispersant that sent him to the hospital. The overseeing hospital physician reported that the fisherman exhibited health signs reflecting a 3 pack-a-day smoker, however the fisherman doesn’t smoke.
What Gulf fishermen and residents say is contributing to the problems is that oil spill clean-up workers should be allowed to use respirators, but that BP is not allowing workers involved in the clean-up to use them. According to Clint Guidry, president of the Louisiana Shrimp Association: “If you would do your research, the same situation occurred with Exxon Valdez [oil spill] over twenty years ago. It is a question of liability. The minute BP[British Petroleum] declares that there is a respiratory danger on the [oil spill] situation is the day that they [BP] let the door open for liability suits down the line. If they could have gotten away with covering this up, like they did in Alaska Valdez [oil spill] situation, like Exxon, they [BP] would not have to pay a penny for any kind of health-related claims”
Guidry reports that the smell from the Gulf oil spill is so bad that: “The closest I got was Venice, Louisiana, and you could smell it from Venice. At the time I was down there, they were actually spraying Corexit 9527A on the oil spill on top of the water and spraying all around—Venice sits on a peninsula, the Mississippi River, right at the—right above the Head of the Passes. And they were actually spraying this Corexit in the air all around where people were living, with kids and children, and continuously saying how safe it was, which [Guidry believes] is incorrect”
Just as occurred after the September 11 Terrorist Attacks, brave workers are doing what they can to try to aid in what could be one of the largest disasters and accidents of all time. Gulf oil spill clean-up workers will likely have to suffer for years and years, just as workers of 9/11 have done. It’s unknown whether some clean-up workers from the Gulf could even die from their clean-up efforts, but workers are knowingly risking their health and possibly their lives. Guidry says, “I spoke to several individuals. It was a choice between not paying the bills and having food for their families-and maybe taking a chance of getting sick.”
Gulf residents, fishermen and clean-up workers fear that the oil and chemicals are not only beginning to make the clean-up workers sick, but that those chemicals will have long term health consequences for people in the Gulf of Mexico after this toxic spill. Anne Rolfes, director of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, says there is not enough air quality monitoring being done by state or Federal agencies. She says the Louisiana Bucket Brigade plans to start collecting air samples of its own, in the oil spill zone, this week.
"We're putting these people out there as canaries in the coal mine," Rolfes said. And that just may be the case: Vancouver Aquarium sea otters, Nyac and Milo, the “holding hands” sea otter pairing was split in 2008-when Nyac died. With oil spills one of the greatest threats to sea otters, Nyac, was a rare survivor of the 1989 Exxon Valdez Oil Spill. Sea Otter “Nyac” died of chronic lymphocytic leukemia at age 20, one of the last surviving sea otters of the Exxon Valdez oil spill. According to the Aquarium’s Staff Veterinarian, Dr. Martin Haulena, even in her death Nyac is important because “Lymphocytic leukemia has not been previously reported in sea otters, and because there is some association with contact with petroleum in other species—she [Nyac] will continue to provide vital information on the long-term effects of oil exposure.” That time seems to have come-if our animals can die of a cancer, not normally found in a species and based simply on illness caused by long-ago toxins exposure, then the obvious rationale is that it can happen just as easily to humans.
A fisherman, John Wunstell, who was hospitalized after becoming ill while cleaning up oil in the Gulf of Mexico filed a temporary restraining order in Federal court against oil company British Petroleum (BP) at the end of May. John Wunstell Jr. asks BP to give the oil spill workers respiratory masks, and to not harass clean-up workers who publicly voice their health concerns. Wunstell, a shrimper, said he was paid by BP to use his boat, “Ramie's Wish”, to clean up oil that has been gushing into the Gulf since an oil rig sank 40 miles off the Louisiana coast, gushing at least an estimation of 19,000 barrels (798, 000 gallons) of crude oil per day. In a legal Affidavit, the shrimper, Wunstell, wrote that he started experiencing severe headaches and nasal irritation on May 24.
Over the next few days, he also developed nosebleeds, upset stomach, and aches. Friday, Wunstell was airlifted to West Jefferson Medical Center in Marrero, Louisiana, hospitalized through Sunday. Eight other workers were brought to the hospital this week, all oil spill workers now released. "We need to start protecting these guys," said Jim Klick, the fisherman’s lawyer. In his Affidavit, Wunstell described his experience at the hospital. "At West Jefferson [hospital], there were tents set up outside the hospital, where I was stripped of my clothing, washed with water and several showers, before I was allowed into the hospital," Wunstell said. "When I asked for my clothing, I was told that BP had confiscated all of my clothing and it would not be returned."
The restraining order requests that BP refrain from "altering, testing or destroying clothing or any other evidence or potential evidence" when oil spill clean-up workers become ill. Graham MacEwen, a spokesman for BP, said he could not comment on the restraining order, or on allegations that British Petroleum had confiscated clothing.
He denied accusations from Clint Guidry, president of the Louisiana Shrimpers Association, that BP has been threatening workers who speak out about health concerns. Some fishermen, who are making as much as $3,000 a day, cleaning up oil from the Gulf spill, have said they fear losing their jobs with British Petroleum. "The BP oil spill wiped out their [fishing] professions and their jobs this year and possibly years down the road," Klick said. "The only work they can get right now is with BP."
So that’s the irony: BP inadvertently takes away all of the fishermens’ jobs-many of which may never come back if the oil spill permanently kills wildlife, fish and major portions of marshes and lands. So the fishermen are getting jobs where they can, to support families, support their lives. Right now that option is BP, and BP only. Now, while getting sick, locals say that fishermen are afraid of losing those jobs-when their livelihoods have already been taken away by the oil company. Talk about a double-edged sword.
The BP spokesman said there have been no threats against workers for speaking out; the spokesperson didn’t specify the form of such threats or include the word ‘verbal’ at the front end, the type which usually holds most meaning with people—and any corporation would, of course, know better than to actually publish written words to that effect. The best possible method, if you were going to do it, would be to keep everything out of writing, so it can’t come back to haunt you later, to make only verbal threats and train the remaining crew (strength in numbers) to tease any man complaining, so that it doesn’t continue.
"If they have any concerns, they should raise them with their supervisors," MacEwen said. "They can also call the joint information center and make complaints anonymously." Let’s see-is that the same supervisor the work-up cleaners claim have told them they would lose their job if wearing a mask?; now they’re supposed to “raise the issue”?
Wunstell is one of nine clean-up workers who were sent to the hospital with symptoms such as shortness of breath, nose and throat irritation, headaches, and dizziness. The restraining order requests that BP stop using dispersants without providing "appropriate personal protective equipment" to workers. Right now, BP is not even issuing respiratory equipment to oil spill clean-up workers. Corexit, a dispersant being used in clean-up efforts, is being sprayed into the Gulf of Mexico to break down the oil. The safety data information sheet from Corexit’s manufacturer states that people should "avoid breathing in vapor" from Corexit, and that masks should be work when Corexit is present in certain concentrations in the air.
BP has not been known to supply clean-up workers with masks when they work near the oil and Corexit dispersants, and spill workers are claiming they have asked for the respiratory equipment. BP has actually issued the statement: "We're been carrying out very extensive air quality since early on in this [oil spill clean-up] exercise, to make sure that we [BP] have working safe conditions, and thus far not found situations where there are air quality concerns that would require face masks," MacEwen said. He added that workers who want to wear masks are "free to do so" (though no masks or respiratory equipment is being, or has been, provided by BP) as long as they receive instructions from their supervisors on how to use them.
Hmmmm, let’s get this straight: BP claims that masks and respiratory equipment are not necessary; now, if that is the case, how and why would it possibly be necessary for BP clean-up supervisors to provide “instructions on how to use them.” Why would instructions be vital for proper usage, if in fact the equipment is useless as BP claims?
According to Guidry from the Shrimpers' Association, he says BP told oil spill clean-up workers that they were not allowed to wear masks. "Some of our men asked, and they were told they'd be fired if they wore masks," he said. Could that be because, if pictures of workers wearing masks appeared in the media, people would question the level of toxins present, to make those masks necessary?
Tony Hayward, CEO of BP, offered up his own explanation for the fishermens’ illness or hospitalization: Hayward insinuates the cause is intake of spoiled food. "Food poisoning is clearly a big issue," BP CEO Hayward recently said. "It's something we've got to be very mindful of. It's one of the big issues of keeping the [U.S.] Army operating. You know, the Army marches on their stomachs." In which land does he reside? Apparently Hayward’s place of belonging is with the Army, considering his fine display of military knowledge—and the fact that he seems incapable of responding to a clear question rather than ‘red herrings’. An expert on food-borne illness casts doubt on CEO Hayward's rotten food theory, stating: "Headaches, shortness of breath, nosebleeds--there's nothing there that suggests food-borne illness," said Dr. Michael Osterholm, professor at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health. "I don't know what these people [BP oil spill clean-up workers] have, but it sounds more like a respiratory illness."