Friday, July 9, 2010

Gulf Oil Update: Day 81

Congressman Ed Markey Predicted Danger of Hurricane (Alex)



"We have no idea about the condition of the well casing under the Gulf."

"We should assume the worst case scenario now, prepare for it and hope that we don't have to use it."


New Data from BP’s Coverup Firm Shows Dispersants in 20% of Offshore Workers

By: Michael Whitney
Friday July 9, 2010 12:59 pm

Christine Millner, Environmental Scientist with CTEH (Center for Toxicology and Environmental Health) collects water and air samples from the Gulf of Mexico waters off Shell Beach, LA.

CTEH is the company contracted by BP to monitor air levels as they related to recovery worker safety in the Gulf of Mexico. The firm, which has a sordid history of covering up corporate environmental disasters, just released new data with BP yesterday that shows disturbing levels of toxic dispersants in 20% of offshore recovery workers and 15% of near-shore workers. But these just aren’t any toxic dispersants. It’s the same chemical blamed for chronic health problems in Exxon Valdez recovery workers that is now poisoning at least one-fifth of BP’s offshore recovery workers. Elana Schor reports for Greenwire:

"In an under-the-radar release of new test results for its Gulf of Mexico oil spill workers, BP PLC is reporting potentially hazardous exposures to a now-discontinued dispersant chemical — a substance blamed for contributing to chronic health problems after the Exxon Valdez cleanup — among more than 20 percent of offshore responders. [...]

The new BP summary, including results up to June 29, show a broad majority of workers testing below exposure limits set by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). But the Valdez-linked chemical 2-butoxyethanol was detected at levels up to 10 parts per million (ppm) in more than 20 percent of offshore responders and 15 percent of those near shore. The NIOSH standard for 2-butoxyethanol, which lacks the force of law but is considered more health-protective than the higher OSHA limit, is 5 ppm."

Data from Louisiana Office of Public Health compiled by Firedoglake shows that almost half of workers reporting illnesses were working offshore. Their symptoms include headaches, nausea, vomiting, sore throat, coughing, shortness of breath, and irritation of the nose and eyes - symptoms consistent with of exposure to 2-butoxyethanol.

Of course, while CTEH and BP included the health limits for every other chemical they measured, they conveniently forgot to include that helpful information for its measurements for 2-butoxyethanol.

OSHA’s standard for exposure to this toxic chemical is 50 parts per million for a 40-hour work week, while NIOSH, part of the CDC, suggests a toxicity limit of just 5 parts per million. CTEH and BP’s data showed 20% of offshore workers and 15% of near-shore workers had levels of this toxic chemical at 10 parts per million. (Twice the toxic level of 5 ppm--Editor)

When I spoke with Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA, Jordan Barab, earlier this week, Barab told me that OSHA hasn’t ”found anything approaching the minimum levels” of toxic components of dispersants for the “most of up to date limits.” I asked the Department of Labor to clarify this morning if this included 2-butoxyethanol, but have not yet received a response.

The danger with OSHA’s level is that it is based on a work week – however, many recovery workers, particularly those working offshore, are around the toxic chemicals almost 24/7. Workers on boats, rigs drilling relief wells, and others miles off shore have constant exposure. Many others who aren’t deep offshore still live and work near or on the water, and have near constant exposure to toxic chemicals in the air for more than 40 hours per week.

But OSHA isn’t responsible for offshore workers. The agency’s jurisdiction ends 3 miles offshore, far away from the offshore workers most affected by exposure to dispersants. OSHA tells me that NIOSH is observing and monitoring offshore, with the Coast Guard in charge of enforcement. But CTEH apparently has primary responsibility for worker safety monitoring data offshore.

So what’s next? It seems to be that CTEH and BP’s exclusion of toxic limits for 2-butoxyethanol is an omission consistent with CTEH’s track record of covering up for corporate disasters. It’s clear that this toxic chemical that caused so much pain for Exxon Valdez recovery workers needs to be taken with the utmost concern by the federal government. (Editor's bold emphasis throughout) Levels of this chemical need to be considered in any health and safety protections for recovery workers, including respirators, at NIOSH’s limits. There also needs to be a government agency officially charged with protecting the safety of offshore workers that doesn’t rely on CTEH. There’s no reason to do anything less when the health and safety of recovery workers are at stake.

Finally, CTEH’s data has been long in coming; while CTEH claims to send data to the government on a daily basis, this is the first public release of data since early June. The government needs to whip BP and CTEH in line to provide real time information about toxicity in order to do everything possibly to protect recovery workers. If that means CTEH needs to go, then they need to go.


GRITtv: BP Exploiting Workers in the Gulf

By: Michael Whitney
Friday July 9, 2010 11:21 am

Yesterday I (Michael Whitney) went to GRITtv and spoke with host Laura Flanders and Louisiana author Jordan Flahrety about BP’s exploitation of working people in the Gulf Coast. We discussed just a few of the many problems facing fishermen, recovery workers, and residents of the Gulf that are all at the mercy of BP. Though OSHA issued limited standards for respirators, with health problems prevalent in the Gulf, OSHA says illnesses are heat-related. I also discussed problems with the claims process, ways fishermen can get screwed by BP, and how some are organizing to fight back. Jordan also makes some interesting points about the problem of historical exploitation of Gulf Coast communities by the oil industry, and what needs to happen for people to reclaim their lives back from Big Oil.

Check out our discussion in the video above, and much thanks to GRITtv and Laura Flanders for the great discussion.

Editor's NOTE:

Michael Whitney stressed that OSHA is currently underestimating the environmental risk to Gulf clean-up and recovery workers. For details see THIS...

--Dr. J. P. Hubert


Rep. Maloney: Address Health of Gulf Cleanup Workers Now, Before They Lose It

By: Michael Whitney
Wednesday June 9, 2010 3:59 pm

Rep. Carolyn Maloney took to the floor of the House of Representatives this morning to speak about the need to protect the health of cleanup workers responding to the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

Maloney, who represents parts of Manhattan and Queens in the House, is one of the leaders in Congress in fighting for the health of 9/11 workers and rescuers who lacked adequate safety equipment. She stands up for the 60,000 people who pitched in at Ground Zero, more than half of whom report serious respiratory and other health problems to this day.

Knowing OSHA’s poor track record at enforcing laws during times of crisis, like the 9/11 cleanup, Maloney saw the situation unfolding in the Gulf and spoke out about the need to protect the health of cleanup workers, as she put it, “before they lose it.” Maloney said on the floor of the House this morning:

"The BP oil spill has caused a great emergency along our Gulf Coast. I hope as the response to it continues, we never forget the lessons of the Ground Zero workers. In the wake of 9/11, thousands of men and women labored tirelessly. Driven by a sense of urgent purpose, safety precautions were not taken, and assurances were given that proved to be false. The health of far too many of those who worked on that toxic pile, they suffered long-term health consequences.

Now in the Gulf, men and women are once again being exposed to a toxic sea of elements. After just 40-some days, there are already reports that workers have suffered exposure to the oil, and this cleanup will go on for years. The time to address the issue of the health of the cleanup workers is now, before they lose it."

Maloney knows that in the days, weeks, and months following 9/11, people in lower Manhattan were at risk of serious health issues due to poor air quality and asbestos from the fallen buildings. Despite pleas from local authorities, members of Congress, and the workers themselves, OSHA and EPA refused to require workers use respirators and other personal protection equipment to protect their health. Dr. Kirk Murphy at the Seminal pointed us to what happened, or didn’t, after 9/11:

"With regard to the Ground Zero clean-up, the FOIA request uncovered a trail of email and other documents showing that the New York City Department of Health (NYCDOH), the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the New York City Fire Department (NYCFD) all asked for OSHA enforcement during October 2001 when the immediate crisis had passed and extensive clean-up efforts were underway. Despite requests, OSHA did not enforce its regulations. It is estimated that as many as 60,000 workers and volunteers assisted in the clean-up. Though no one knows what portion failed to use proper PPE, anecdotal reports suggest that unsafe exposure was commonplace. Already, as many as 60 percent of all Ground Zero workers have shown some signs of respiratory illness and some have died due to their exposure."

OSHA needs to conduct a monitoring program independent of the recovery effort of BP and the Coast Guard. We need to know every data point of air monitoring in the region. We need to know the safety training for workers gives them the knowledge they need to recognize risks to their health. And we need to know workers have every available piece of personal protection equipment, including respirators, that they need to work safely with the cleanup of BP’s oil. If we don’t act now, and if OSHA continues to provide cover for BP, Gulf cleanup workers will suffer for the rest of the lives, and BP will wash its hands thanks to the complicity of OSHA.