Every day, the parallels between the BP Gulf Coast oil spill and the Exxon Valdez tanker spill grow. Riki Ott (Not One Drop: Courage and Betrayal in the Wake of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill) was there the first time around to witness the toxic after-effects experienced by the Exxon cleanup crews. Respiratory illness, neural impairment, even genetic damage were all the result of working with the Valdez “crud.” Now, the same symptoms are cropping up in the Gulf spill workers while BP continues to assure them they don’t need respirators or other special protections.
From the Huffington Post:
Venice, Louisiana – 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.
For two weeks, I’ve been in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama sharing stories from the Exxon Valdez oil spill, which devastated the community I lived and commercially fished in, with everyone from fishermen and women to local mayors to state governors and the crush of international media.
During the 1989 cleanup in Alaska, thousands of workers had what Exxon medical doctors called, “the Valdez Crud,” and dismissed as simple colds and flu. Fourteen years later, I followed the trail of sick workers through the maze of court records, congressional records, obituaries, and media stories, and made hundreds of phone calls. I found a different story. As one former cleanup worker put it, “I thought I had the Valdez Crud in 1989. I didn’t think I’d have it for fourteen years.”