Workers who are cleaning up the shores and waters of the Gulf Coast in the aftermath of the BP oil disaster are reporting sickness and side effects after their shifts. The LA Times reported that workers have been hit with severe headaches, dizziness, nausea and difficulty breathing after coming into contact with the crude oil and chemical dispersants that are being used.
When it comes to the cleanup work, both the crude oil and the dispersants are unsafe for human and other natural organisms to be in contact with. But the dispersants, which are meant to emulsify the oil, are particularly poisonous. Indeed, the strain of chemicals that BP has been using so far were actually outlawed in the U.K. over a decade ago; BP refused the Environmental Protection Agency’s demands to switch to a less toxic dispersant.
The oil itself contains chemicals like benzene and toluene, which can cause respiratory irritation, memory loss, leukemia, even permanent brain damage. So far, BP has sprayed more than 600,000 gallons of chemicals on the waters of the Gulf, and 55,000 gallons have been sent into the oil that is still gushing out of the underwater leaks in the ocean floor. An estimated 210,000 gallons of oil are spewing out of the ocean floor every day.
The LA Times said that Rep. Charlie Melancon demanded that the federal government open clinics to treat cleanup workers, and said that he expected BP to fund the clinics. Melancon’s spokesperson said that so far, BP had been unresponsive to other calls for funding.
According to Trinh Le, an organizer with the Hope Community Development Agency in Biloxi, Mississippi, BP was offering speedy safety trainings; a forty-hour Hazmat training was condensed into four hours. But just a few weeks earlier, workers were not being sent out with the necessary safety equipment to protect themselves, according to Paul Orr, an activist with the Lower Mississippi Riverkeeper.
“We are a responsible and professional company,” BP Alaska spokesman Steve Rinehart, told the Anchorage Daily News, when questioned about BP’s poor safety record. “We work to high standards. Safety is our highest priority.”