One of the ongoing tragedies of the Exxon Valdez oil spill is that thousands of people who worked on the cleanup are sick, have gotten sick, and continue to die from inhaling the lethal cocktail of oil and dispersant.
The tragedy is that, like the oil spill itself, the illnesses and deaths were preventable.
Move on 21 years and we know the Deepwater Horizon oil spill was preventable.
In those two decades we know that oil spill response technology has hardly improved, but if we have learnt anything from the Exxon Valdez is that the clean up workers need to be protected and given full protection.
But we now know this is not happening. Clean up workers are getting sick again.
Dr. Riki Ott, the toxicologist who worked on the Exxon Valdez spill and has written a book on the health effects of workers – says its “Deja Vu” all over again.
Yesterday the LA Times reported, under the headline “Oil cleanup workers report illness,” that fisherman employed to help clean up the spill were reporting “severe headaches, dizziness, nausea and difficulty breathing” after contact with dispersant and oil.
Just like with the Exxon Valdez, it transpires that the clean up workers are not been given adequate protective clothing.
One fisherman, George Jackson, 53, told the paper: “They [BP officials] told us if we ran into oil, it wasn’t supposed to bother us,” Jackson said. “As far as gloves, no, we haven’t been wearing any gloves.”
Another fisherman, George Barisich, president of the United Commercial Fishermen’s Association in St. Bernard Parish, said many fishermen have told him about feeling ill.
The LA Times noted: “ At a recent meeting fishermen complained to a BP representative about illness, Barisich said, but got little response. ‘BP has the opinion that they are not getting sick,’ he said.”
But the very symptoms the fisherman are experiencing are in line with the ones that you get from overexposure to crude oil and chemicals.
As Riki Ott explains: “The Material Safety Data Sheets for crude oil and the chemical products being used to disperse and break up the slick — underwater and on the surface — list these very illnesses as symptoms of overexposure to volatile organic carbons (VOCs), hydrogen sulfide, and other chemicals boiling off the slick.”
The EPA has now removed key air quality data from its website, but before it did the data showed that federal standards were being exceeded by 100- to 1,000-fold for Volatile Organic Compounds and hydrogen sulphide. And these readings were on the shore.
As Ott has written: “These high levels could certainly explain the illnesses and were certainly a cause for alarm in the coastal communities.”
She finishes by saying: “The response to the BP leak is starting to look an awful lot like what happened during the Exxon Valdez cleanup …The current situation is a disaster in the making.”
And this morning the news is much worse. AFP has just reported that “All 125 commercial fishing boats helping oil recovery efforts off Louisiana’s Breton Sound area have been recalled after four workers reported health problems, officials said.”
The crew members aboard three separate vessels “reported experiencing nausea, dizziness, headaches and chest pains” , according to the US Coast Guard.
All classic symptoms of exposure to crude oil vapours….