BP's lies about Gulf oil spill should worry Arkansas victims of Exxon spill

© Getty Images, Spencer Platt

"What BP Doesn’t Want You to Know About the 2010 Gulf Spill" is a must-read article by Mark Hertsgaard in Newsweek that reports how BP lied about the size of the oil disaster and the danger posed to its workers, the public and the environment.

That BP lied about the amount of oil it discharged into the gulf is already established. Lying to Congress about that was one of 14 felonies to which BP pleaded guilty last year in a legal settlement with the Justice Department that included a $4.5 billion fine, the largest fine ever levied against a corporation in the U.S.

What has not been revealed until now is how BP hid that massive amount of oil from TV cameras and the price that this “disappearing act” imposed on cleanup workers, coastal residents, and the ecosystem of the gulf. That story can now be told because an anonymous whistleblower has provided evidence that BP was warned in advance about the safety risks of attempting to cover up its leaking oil.

At least 1.84 million gallons of dispersant, known as Corexit, was used and Hertsgaard reports that BP lied about how safe Corexit was for workers, residents and the environment.

Wilma Subra, a chemist whose work on environmental pollution had won her a “genius grant” from the MacArthur Foundation, told state and federal authorities that she was especially concerned about how dangerous the mixture of crude and Corexit was: “The short-term health symptoms include acute respiratory problems, skin rashes, cardiovascular impacts, gastrointestinal impacts, and short-term loss of memory,” she told GAP investigators. “Long-term impacts include cancer, decreased lung function, liver damage, and kidney damage.”

The following anecdote about how workers were intimidated and threatened for questioning the safety of their work reminds me of the way cleanup workers have been misinformed in Mayflower, Arkansas, the site of an Exxon Mobil oil spill.

Roughly 58 percent of the 1.84 million gallons of Corexit used in the cleanup was sprayed onto the gulf from C-130 airplanes. The spray sometimes ended up hitting cleanup workers in the face.

“Our boat was sprayed four times,” says Jorey Danos, a 32-year-old father of three who suffered racking coughing fits, severe fatigue, and memory loss after working on the BP cleanup. “I could see the stuff coming out of the plane—like a shower of mist, a smoky color. I could see [it] coming at me, but there was nothing I could do.”

“The next day,” Danos continues, “when the BP rep came around on his speed boat, I asked, ‘Hey, what’s the deal with that stuff that was coming out of those planes yesterday?’ He told me, ‘Don’t worry about it.’ I said, ‘Man, that s--t was burning my face—it ain’t right.’ He said, ‘Don’t worry about it.’ I said, ‘Well, could we get some respirators or something, because that s--t is bad.’ He said, ‘No, that wouldn’t look good to the media. You got two choices: you can either be relieved of your duties or you can deal with it.’”

In Arkansas, citizen journalists have spoken with cleanup workers that say they have been told the oil is safe and they don't need masks.

The workers we’ve spoken to, including police guarding the scene, uniformly say that Exxon has told them that they are cleaning up “crude oil.” They don’t think they need masks. This is a problem. Over the course of a prolonged exposure, acute symptoms may recede and the smell may become less noticeable, but toxins continue to bio-accumulate.

In Hertsgaard's Newsweek article, he notes a study published nineteen months after the Deepwater Horizon explosion that found that crude oil becomes 52 times more toxic when combined with Corexit.

This raises an important question:

Has Exxon Mobil used Corexit or another dispersant in their cleanup of the Mayflower spill? This would compound the risks posed to workers and residents and also help explain some of the ongoing health problems experienced by locals near the spill.

Read the rest of Hertsgaard's report on BP's cover-up.

Video: WPI Chemical Engineer Marco Kaltofen performs an experiment using actual crude oil from the BP well and Corexit 9500A, the oil dispersant used by BP in the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

Tags: BP | Gulf Oil Spill | Oil | Oil Spill

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