Quantcast
Connect with us

Mystery illnesses plague Louisiana oil spill crews

Published

on

RACELAND, Louisiana — Jamie Simon worked on a barge in the oily waters for six months following the BP spill last year, cooking for the cleanup workers, washing their clothes and tidying up after them.

One year later, the 32-year-old said she still suffers from a range of debilitating health problems, including racing heartbeat, vomiting, dizziness, ear infections, swollen throat, poor sight in one eye and memory loss.

ADVERTISEMENT

She blames toxic elements in the crude oil and the dispersants sprayed to dissolve it after the BP-leased Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico about 50 miles (80 kilometers) off the coast of Louisiana on April 20, 2010.

“I was exposed to those chemicals, which I questioned, and they told me it was just as safe as Dawn dishwashing liquid and there was nothing for me to worry about,” she said of the BP bosses at the job site.

The local doctor, Mike Robichaux, said he has seen as many as 60 patients like Simon in recent weeks, as this small southern town of 10,000 bordered by swamp land and sugar cane fields grapples with a mysterious sickness that some believe is all BP’s fault.

Andy LaBoeuf, 51, said he was paid $1,500 per day to use his boat to go out on the water and lay boom to contain some of the 4.9 million barrels of oil that spewed from the bottom of the ocean after the BP well ruptured.

But four months of that job left him ill and unable to work, and he said he recently had to refinance his home loan because he could not pay his taxes.

ADVERTISEMENT

“I have just been sick for a long time. I just got sick and I couldn’t get better,” LaBoeuf said, describing memory problems and a sore throat that has nagged him for a year.

Robichaux, an ear, nose and throat specialist whose office an hour’s drive southwest of New Orleans is nestled on a roadside marked with handwritten signs advertising turtle meat for sale, says he is treating many of the local patients in their homes.

“Their work ethic is so strong, they are so stoic, they don’t want people to know when they’re sick,” he said.

ADVERTISEMENT

“Ninety percent of them are getting worse… Nobody has a clue as to what it is.”

According to a roster compiled by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, a total of 52,000 workers were responding to the Gulf oil spill as of August 2010.

ADVERTISEMENT

The state of Louisiana has reported 415 cases of health problems linked to the spill, with symptoms including sore throats, irritated eyes, respiratory tract infections, headaches and nausea.

But Bernard Goldstein, an environmental toxicologist and professor at the University of Pittsburgh, said the US government’s method of collecting health data on the workers is flawed.

For instance, a major study of response workers by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences was not funded until six months after the spill, a critical delay that affects both the biology and the recall ability of the workers.

ADVERTISEMENT

“It is too late if you go six months later,” he told AFP.

Benzene, a known carcinogen present in crude oil, disappears from a person’s blood within four months, Goldstein said.

Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs, are pollutants that can cause genetic mutations and cancer. They are of particular interest in studying long-term health, but without a baseline for comparison it is difficult to know where they came from — the oil spill or somewhere else in the environment.

“They last in the body for a longer period of time but they also get confounded by, if you will, obscured by, other sources of PAHs,” like eating barbecued meat or smoking cigarettes, said Goldstein.

ADVERTISEMENT

Further blurring the situation, Louisiana already ranks very low in the overall health of its residents compared to the rest of the United States — between 44th and 49th out of the 50 states according to government data.

Some similar symptoms, including eye irritation, breathing problems, nausea and psychological stress, have been seen among responders to the Prestige oil tanker spill off Spain in 2002 and the Exxon Valdez spill in 1989 off Alaska.

Local chemist Wilma Subra has been helping test people’s blood for volatile solvents, and said levels of benzene among cleanup workers, divers, fishermen and crabbers are as high as 36 times that of the general population.

“As the event progresses we are seeing more and more people who are desperately ill,” she said.

ADVERTISEMENT

“Clearly it is showing that this is ongoing exposure,” Subra said, noting that pathways include contact with the skin, eating contaminated seafood or breathing polluted air.

“We have been asking the federal agencies to please provide medical care from physicians who are trained in toxic exposure.”

She said she has received no response.

Asked for comment, BP said in an email that “protection of response workers was a top priority” and that it had conducted “extensive monitoring of response workers” in coordination with several government agencies.

“Illness and injury reports were tracked and documented during the response, and the medical data indicate they did not differ appreciably from what would be expected among a workforce of this size under normal circumstances,” it added.

Any compensation for sick workers would fall under state law, and “BP does not make these determinations, which must be supported by acceptable medical evidence.”

ADVERTISEMENT

For Simon, her way of life has been completely altered. She said she takes pain relievers every day just to function.

A couple of weeks ago, she read in a local newspaper that other ex-cleanup workers were feeling sick too, and her grandmother urged her to see a doctor.

“I never put the two together. I am just realizing that this is possibly related,” she said.


Report typos and corrections to: [email protected].
READ COMMENTS - JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Continue Reading

Breaking Banner

Woman who became infamous for racist rants and alleged attacks gets hit by a fire truck

Published

on

A woman who's made a name for herself by being caught on video spewing racism has been hit by a fire truck and critically injured, according to a report from the Citizen Times.

Rachel Dawn Ruit suffered life-threatening injuries after being struck by the fire truck on July 13 in Asheville, North Carolina. Earlier this month, Ruit made headlines after she allegedly attacked a 14-year-old girl and ripped off a woman's hijab during a Black Lives Matter protest.

Continue Reading

Breaking Banner

The coronavirus outlook is ‘grim’ in the US — and will only ‘get worse’ thanks to Trump and his sycophants: Paul Krugman

Published

on

Liberal economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman has not hesitated to lambast President Donald Trump and his sycophants for their response to the coronavirus pandemic — a response that, according to Krugman, has made the crisis much worse than it has to be in the United States. And in his July 13 column, Krugman points to recent GOP “opposition research” against Dr. Anthony Fauci as a prime example of the type of insanity that is making the U.S. #1 in COVID-19 infections.

Krugman opens his column by offering a “brief history of the past four months in America.” While health experts like Fauci have warned, “Don’t rush to reopen, this isn’t over,” Trump’s message has been “LIBERATE!” — and the response of COVID-19 is “Wheee!” And the boneheaded mentality of Trump officials, according to Krugman, has been “Here’s our opposition research on Anthony Fauci.”

Continue Reading
 

2020 Election

Trump-loving network OAN caught only releasing polls favorable to the president — and ignoring bad ones

Published

on

One America News, the Trump-loving network that President Donald Trump has pitched to his fans as an alternative to Fox News, has been caught red-handed only releasing polls it commissions if they happen to be good news for the president.

FiveThirtyEight's Nate Silver on Tuesday found a strange discrepancy in new polls released by Gravis Marketing, which happens to be OAN's official pollster.

In particular, Silver noted that OAN only sponsored Gravis polls showing Trump holding leads in states such as North Carolina, Georgia, and Arizona -- while declining to sponsor new Gravis polls showing the president getting blown out in both Florida and Minnesota.

Continue Reading
 
 
You need honest news coverage. Help us deliver it. Join Raw Story Investigates for $1. Go ad-free.
close-image