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Gina Solomon’s Blog

Oil Spill Clean-Up Workers Getting Sick

Gina Solomon

Posted May 23, 2010 in Health and the Environment, Moving Beyond Oil

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Many of the fishermen who signed up to work for BP cleaning up the oil signed contracts that forbid them from talking to the press. Perhaps for that reason, reports of illnesses have been somewhat slow to emerge. Last week, the wives of some of the fishermen spoke out publicly about the symptoms their husbands were experiencing. This week, some fishermen are starting to come forward. In this WDSU TV interview, one of the fishermen reports feeling drugged, disoriented, tingling, fatigued, and also reporting shortness of breath and cough. These are symptoms that are consistent with what one might expect from exposure to hydrocarbons in oil.

There are also disturbing photos that have been posted on the internet and in the LA Times, showing clean-up workers on beaches in regular street clothes without even the benefit of gloves. These people are in contact with the weathered oil (as opposed to fresh oil bubbling up from the continuing leak). Weathered oil is considered less dangerous than fresh oil because the toxic vapors have dissipated, but it is not benign. Skin contact with even the weathered oil is very damaging, so gloves should be required. In addition, the oil can contaminate shoes and clothing, and could then be worn home where it could pose a risk to young children. The oil needs to be cleaned up, but it should be done right.

This coming week, fishermen from Alaska who were involved in the clean-up after the Exxon Valdez oil spill are coming down to the Gulf Coast to meet with local fishermen. The goal is to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past. I blogged previously about scientific studies of health effects in clean-up workers from prior oil spills. So it's encouraging to see that the workers are sharing stories. The only way to keep people safe is to learn from history, and to force BP to act responsibly (or is that an oxymoron at this point?) One of my NRDC colleagues will be at the meeting this week, and she will be gathering information on what's happening out there. Stay tuned for updates in the effort to protect the clean-up workers.

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Comments

Marie CuratoloMay 24 2010 08:28 PM

My heart goes out to these fishermen and their families. The susceptibility of unprotected clean-up workers also makes me think of the dangers of the other species who live in that environment who may suffer even more health effects than humans, due to their inescapable exposure to the spill.

NickieMay 25 2010 12:13 AM

My brother is currently out there doing some of the clean up along with many other family and friends. My father is also a boat captain and has participated on our local forum for a while now trying to get people to fix the wetlands. I just wanted to add this report we got back from my brother. Its something my dad posted and felt like it would go with your article. Thanks....

Just talked to my son on one of the shrimp boats at the mouth of the river. Seems BP have put representatives on at least this boat that don't know very much about what's going on. Given a single class and tagged a BP Rep.
My son has gone through some extensive tankerman training and knows his chemicals and he's been asking for the MSDS's on some of the chemicals being used to spray the oil with from the boat and having no luck recieving any info on any of the chemicals.
My son seems to be getting frustrated with the lack of communuication out on the water also with BP. My boy doesn't get frustrated out on the water for being gone for long periods of time or from the work at hand. He just wants to know what he needs to know to get the job done in a safe manner.
He also stated there are some in the Lil Calliou Armada who want to come to Terrebonne's Coast to work the oil which is very understandable, it's their fishing grounds.
Keep ya'll prayers and thoughts with them Terrebonne, they're buisting their tails for the coast.

RobyMay 25 2010 09:58 PM

I got hired today to be involved in the cleanup. I find it funny that they didn't require an OSHA card for some people. I'm taking the 24 hour hazwoper cert starting Thursday. You better believe I didn't sign any confidentiality agreement.
I'm pretty concerned about the respitory threat the crudes vapors harbor, esp the Benzine.

artsmithMay 26 2010 06:18 PM

Eny one dealing with the spill neads to know what is on the MSDS sheets and understand tmem.

johnJun 1 2010 10:49 AM

i want to get hired and help clean up what do i need to do..can any one help me!

laceyJun 4 2010 12:37 AM

hi

brown kenJun 8 2010 02:39 PM

I wish to get hired, help clean up the oil spill I was told that they're paying very well as well as free room/board. need the income but moreso need to get this oil spill clean up! need info. what where

philJun 12 2010 12:29 PM

I find it odd that a family member was hired to work with the oil cleanup with no 24hr cert. or 40 hour hazwoper cert. thay sent him to a 3 hr class and a 4 hour class have no idea what they were for but I'm pretty sure the ads I read for work said 24 or 40hr was a requirement so are people cutting corners when it comes to what the requirments are? Is that really a safe thing to do

John TheriaultJun 14 2010 05:13 PM

Gina,

Thanks very much for this post.

The media has yet to fully focus on the health effects of the spill, most importantly, the potential impact of the chemicals inserted into the food ecosystem. Benzene has been identified as a potential cause of Aplastic Anemia, and the dangers of mercury and lead are well known.

I've written a post on this subject as well, and hopefully, we can bring public attention to this emerging issue.

Matthew JancosekJun 16 2010 02:05 PM

When this first started we had companies calling us left and right wanting to have people with at least 24hr cert. on standby. Now I can understand why they canceled the jobs. They can take anyone give them a rushed 3 hr training and call it 24 hr and send them to work. This would be cheaper than getting a seasoned worker with the right credentials. Give it time though someone will get hurt, people will get sick and these same companies will end up having to pay a lot more than if they did it the correct way.

Ira MatthewsJun 18 2010 03:28 PM

Greetings! My name is Ira,and I'm also very interested in getting involved in the clean up of this disaster. I too have heard that the pay scale is nice,and I used to work for "Canflex",a company that manufactures oil spill response equiptment. I would be more than willing to undergo any training necessary to secure myself a position,and If anyone has any info for me,please fill me in!

REYNALDO VALDEZJun 18 2010 11:25 PM

can you emale me as soon as you can so i can know if youall are going to hire me .thank you or call 1208 989 3834

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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