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Gina Solomon’s Blog

Offshore Air Quality in the Gulf: BP Data Still Inadequate

Gina Solomon

Posted June 8, 2010

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In previous blog posts I have raised serious concerns about the health and safety of the Gulf clean-up workers. I have also repeatedly called upon BP and the Coast Guard to publicly release the air quality data that they claim shows the air is "safe" out there where hundreds of people are working.

Well, BP finally responded....kind-of.

Hidden on its website, BP quietly posted a document with no title, no date, and no author that appears to contain a general summary of the “Offshore Personnel Sample Results” conducted between April 28 and May 13, 2010 for benzene and total hydrocarbons.  

The document provides no information on the sampling method, the location(s) where the samples were taken, the duration or time of sampling, or the actual data behind the graphs. Worse still, the data are classified into rough cut-offs that make it difficult or impossible to interpret the actual health risks.  

Here's what I can say based on the BP data summaries:

  • The majority of samples (128 out of 187) had measurable levels of total hydrocarbons and 28 had levels greater than 10 ppm, which is the level of concern EPA is using for Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). In contrast, the BP summary cites an "action limit" of greater than 100 ppm - a level that would be fairly certain to make people sick.
  • Eleven samples had measurable levels of the known carcinogen benzene, with measurements up to 0.5 ppm.  This range encompasses the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health Recommended Exposure Limit (REL) for occupational exposure to benzene of 0.1 ppm.  From the data presented it is impossible to ascertain how many of the samples exceeded this health based level.
  • The BP document contained no data at all on hydrogen sulfide, naphthalene, dispersant chemicals, and other air pollutants that are harmful to health and that workers are likely to be exposed to.

BP’s document concludes that the monitoring data, “demonstrate that there are no significant exposures occurring”.  However, the data summarized in this document do not substantiate these assurances and raise significant questions about what the fishermen are being exposed to.

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MarkJun 10 2010 11:56 AM

Thanks for your post. The Occupational exposure limits, like OSHA and NIOSH use, assume worker exposures are limited to an 8 hour day and 40 hour week, with unexposed time the rest of the day and week. If longer hours are worked, the occupational exposure limits need to be reduced. For example, one simple method would reduce the NIOSH REL of 0.1 ppm to 0.05 ppm if 80 hour weeks are worked. Exxon did not account for the this when reporting worker air sampling data in Alaska in 1989.

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