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Just Like 9/11? Oil Spill Responders Are Getting Sick … But Are Being Told They Don’t Need Any Safety Gear

Washington’s Blog
May 20, 2010

The U.S. government suppressed health information after 9/11. For example, as Newsday noted in 2003:

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.

Because the government lied about the health risks involved, many heroic first responders didn’t use any real precautions, and so have gotten sick and died. And see this.

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.

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