By Anne Landman on June 10, 2010

One of the first things BP did after oil started gushing into the Gulf was to spray more than 1.1 million gallons of a dispersant with the optimistic name "Corexit" onto the oil. Then BP hired Louisiana fishermen and others to help with cleanup and containment operations. About two weeks later, over seventy workers fell sick, complaining of irritated throats, coughing, shortness of breath and nausea. Seven workers were hospitalized on May 26. Workers were engaged in a variety of different tasks in different places when they got sick: breaking up oil sheen, doing offshore work, burning oil and deploying boom. BP officials speculated that their illnesses were due to food poisoning or other, unrelated reasons, but others pointed out how unlikely these other causes were, since the sick workers were assigned to different locations.

Secret Sauce

Nalco, the company that makes Corexit, declined to make public the ingredients they use in Corexit, to protect the proprietary trade secret composition of the product, but they did turn over a list of ingredients to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which sat on the information, prompting a flood of complaints over several weeks from members of Congress, public health advocates and doctors who had no idea how to treat people exposed to the secret chemical concoction. On June 9, EPA quietly released a full list of the ingredients in Corexit products on their Web site. Two variants of the product were used on the Gulf oil spill: Corexit 9527, used early on in the Gulf, contains 2-butoxyethanol, which caused persistent health problems among people who worked on cleaning up the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill. Another ingredient, propylene glycol, is a common solvent and lubricant. The other iteration of the product, Corexit 9500, also contains propylene glycol, as well as light petroleum distillates and dioctyl sodium sulfosuccinate, a detergent and common ingredient in laxatives and stool softeners. The special handling instructions for Corexit 9500 say workers need to don long-sleeved shirts, chemical resistant gloves and chemical protective goggles when working with the chemical. Any contact with skin needs to be treated immediately with flushing and washing with soap.

Liability Dodge?

The illnesses they have experienced have led workers to ask for better equipment to use for cleanup, including respirators, but BP says air quality monitoring doesn't show a need for breathing equipment, according to OSHA standards. Congressman Jerry Nadler (D-New York) says BP is refusing to acknowledge any liability for health problems, and that the only thing chemical dispersants have accomplished is to make some of the oil less visible on the ocean's surface by driving it into underwater plumes, which BP denies exist. He likened the spraying of Corexit on the ocean to the U.S.'s spraying of Agent Orange in Vietnam, a defoliant that by some accounts resulted in as many as 400,000 deaths and disabilities, and 500,000 children born with birth defects. Nadler expressed concern that the situation with BP and Corexit reminds him of the World Trade Center where the government said the air was safe for workers and told them there was no need for concern and no need for respirators, and thousands fell ill with chronic health problems.

History May Be Repeating Itself

"I cannot believe we are repeating the same mistake again, the same mistake that we made in the weeks after 9-11 when the United States government caused thousands of people to get sick by denying that the air was toxic," Nadler said before Congress June 9. He insisted we are doing the same thing again, only BP is doing it this time, employing thousands of workers to labor in what amounts to unsafe conditions. He predicted BP will try to deny liability for worker's illnesses, and predicted that these kinds of health problems will spread to all the countries bordering the gulf, and the problem will eventually become an international crisis.

Comments

The situation is horrible. Bush and other interests put caps on the oil companies for penalties like this. They are fined something like $400 a barrel. For a company that makes over $100,000,000 a day, I don't think they are concerned. I am sure their top priority is to get things cleaned up, business is business after all.

Either way, it's disgusting and is just another illustration of the importance of alternative energy.

Another disater was bound to happen. With our insatiable appitite for oil the Oil Companies are forced to drill ever deeper to fill our greed. We tend to forget there is a cause and effect and a consequenceof our actions. There will be many more, each one worst than the last, before we say enough is enough. We Humans have short memories when it suits.

None of the "dispersant" has been tested for long term use. This is one giant experiment. Our Government likes to make it look like they are chastising BP, but behind the scenes, they are probably buddy buddy. Unbelievable.

Obviously the government always has a hand in "calming people down" when there is a chaotic event at hand. This is obviously necessary but not to the point where danger is evident, as said in the 9/11 example. I think that the government should impose more laws on a gas company like BP for this happening, and take responsibility for alot of the damage in the form of reliefs for gulf area restaurants, food stores, hotels, etc. that were majorly hurt because of the spill In addition, I'm sure alot of people should boycott the use of BP gas, but not their food stores and other products. The company is understandably going to lose alot of revenue on fuel and oil, but the other companies should not be reprimanded.

The crude oil is toxic!! Workers cleaning the oily Gulf beaches need to know the danger. Don't become BP's Collateral Damaged, like Exxon’s Collateral Damaged.

http://www.lvrj.com/news/exxon-valdez-oil-risks-spur-warning-for-gulf-cleanup-crews-93258964.html

My name is Merle Savage, a female general foreman during the Exxon Valdez oil spill (EVOS) beach cleanup in 1989. I am one of the 11,000+ cleanup workers from the Exxon Valdez oil spill (EVOS), who is suffering from health issues from that toxic cleanup, without compensation from Exxon.

Dr. Riki Ott visited me in 2007 to explain about the toxic spraying on the beaches. She also informed me that Exxon's medical records and the reports that surfaced in litigation by sick workers in 1994, had been sealed from the public, making it impossible to hold Exxon responsible for their actions.
http://www.rikiott.com

Exxon developed the toxic spraying; OSHA, the Coast Guard, and the state of Alaska authorized the procedure. Beach crews breathed in crude oil that splashed off the rocks and into the air -- the toxic exposure turned into chronic breathing conditions and central nervous system problems, neurological impairment, chronic respiratory disease, leukemia, lymphoma, brain tumors, liver damage, and blood disease.
http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=5632208859935499100

My web site is devoted to searching for EVOS cleanup workers who were exposed to the toxic spraying, and are suffering from the same illnesses that I have. There is an on going Longshoreman’s claim for workers with medical problems from the oil cleanup. Our summer employment turned into a death sentence for many -- and a life of unending medical conditions for the rest of Exxon’s Collateral Damaged.
http://www.silenceinthesound.com/stories.shtml

It's scary that you say that this spraying of Corexit is likened to Agent Orange. I went to Vietnam last year and was horrified at the lasting affects that Agent Orange has had on the Vietnamese people (and unfortunately will have on future generations- it affects the genetic code). I'm also aware of how solvents are so toxic to the human body. My recent research shows that solvents are a major cause of depression too. Thanks for making me aware of this potential issue. It's very informative.

Ohh God!! This is disgusting Oil companies are not doing well for the laborers. They are all in business minded and enemy of human lives. This is now not a issue for only the Golf countries rather than it's becoming a serious issue of international level. I think we should stand united against this condition and help the laborers for proper Justis.

Google oil spill syndrome for more info on this developing story

It's so hard for me to understand why the vast majority of companies and people seek chemical solutions to everything. When will we understand that natural and living is better? It's better to eat, to heal our bodies and to clean up major messes.

Thankfully, there are many brilliant people researching and working with biological methods - from creating kitchen compost to breaking down chemicals. What I can't believe is how long it takes for these simple and natural solutions to reach the masses.

Are we all seduced by the amazing power of chemicals?

With so many eyes on BP at this point, it is very hard to understand why they wouldn't over compensate for the health claims being made and take whatever steps necessary to paint their handling of at least the human aspects of the disaster in a more responsible light. This seems like very large mistake in PR.

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