Oil Cleanup Workers Getting Sick: BP Not Providing Safety Gear


Photo via GDB

Ever since the fishermen whose livelihoods have been shattered by the encroaching oil spill were first hired by BP as cleanup workers, concerns mounted for their health. Three weeks ago in Venice, Louisiana the NRDC told me that oil cleanup workers weren't getting proper safety gear. Then, at a town hall meeting I attended two weeks ago, the fishermen confirmed that they weren't getting proper safety gear. Now, the LA Times reports that the fishermen still aren't receiving that gear -- and that they are indeed getting dangerously sick from the prolonged contact with toxic crude. Here's the LA Times:

Some fishermen who have been hired by BP to clean up the gulf oil spill say they have become ill after working long hours near waters fouled with oil and dispersant, prompting a Louisiana lawmaker to call on the federal government to open mobile clinics in rural areas to treat them. The fishermen report severe headaches, dizziness, nausea and difficulty breathing.
And as Dr. Gina Solomon of the NRDC explained to me, those short term symptoms are the least cause for concern -- long term effects include chronic respiratory problems, neurological problems, and cancer. Workers who helped clean up the Exxon-Valdez spill without proper safety gear have suffered these ailments -- and it looks like the cycle is ready to repeat itself yet again, due largely to BP's negligence.

Remember, BP is required by law to provide adequate safety gear -- including gloves, respirators, and full body suits. But guess what the cleanup workers aren't getting? Here's the Times again, with a story of one such cleanup worker:

George Jackson, 53, has been fishing since he was 12 and took a BP cleanup job after the massive oil spill forced the closure of fisheries and left him unemployed. As he was laying containment booms Sunday, he said, a dark substance floating on the water made his eyes burn. "I ain't never run on anything like this," Jackson said. Within seconds, he said, his head started hurting and he became nauseated.

Like other cleanup workers, Jackson had attended a training class where he was told not to pick up oil-related waste. But he said he wasn't provided with protective equipment and wore leather boots and regular clothes on his boat. "They [BP officials] told us if we ran into oil, it wasn't supposed to bother us," Jackson said. "As far as gloves, no, we haven't been wearing any gloves."

This is disgraceful. Marine toxicologists are calling it "deja vu" from the Exxon-Valdez, as many other workers are reporting ill health effects from working with the oil. Afraid of being fired, many are afraid to speak up to BP. With thousands of such cleanup workers coming into direct contact with the oil every day, we can only hope that BP gets the memo, before history repeats itself.

More on the Gulf Oil Spill
Gulf Spill Exclusive: Shocking Marine Life Destruction and Angry Locals
Is the Gulf Oil Spill Really That Big of a Deal?

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