Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Gulf Oil Spill: Day 156

Evidence Mounts of BP Spraying Toxic Dispersants

by: Dahr Jamail
t r u t h o u t
Monday 13 September 2010

Shirley and Don Tillman, residents of Pass Christian, Mississippi, have owned shrimp boats, an oyster boat and many pleasure boats. They spent much time on the Gulf of Mexico before working in BP's Vessels Of Opportunity (VOO) program looking for and trying to clean up oil.

Don decided to work in the VOO program in order to assist his brother, who was unable to do so due to health problems. Thus, Don worked on the boat and Shirley decided to join him as a deckhand most of the days.
Private contractor in Carolina Skiff with tank of Corexit dispersant, August 10, south of Pass Christian Harbor, 9:30 AM. (Photo: Don Tillman)

"We love the Gulf, our life is here and so when this oil disaster happened, we wanted to do what we could to help clean it up," Shirley explained to Truthout.

However, not long after they began working in BP's response effort in June, what they saw disturbed them. "It didn't take long for us to understand that something was very, very wrong about this whole thing," Shirley told Truthout. "So that's when I started keeping a diary of what we experienced and began taking a lot of pictures. We had to speak up about what we know is being done to our Gulf."

Shirley logged what they saw and took hundreds of photos. The Tillmans confirm, both with what they logged in writing as well as in photos, what Truthout has reported before: BP has hired out-of-state contractors to use unregistered boats, usually of the Carolina Skiff variety, to spray toxic Corexit dispersants on oil located by VOO workers.

Shirley provided Truthout with key excerpts from the diary she kept of her experiences out on the water with her husband while they worked in the VOO program before they, like most of the other VOO workers in Mississippi, were laid off because the state of Mississippi, along with the US Coast Guard, has declared there is no more "recoverable oil" in their area.

"The first day I went, I noticed a lot of foam on the water," reads her entry from June 26. "My husband said he had been seeing a lot of it. At that time, we were just looking for 'Oil.' We would go out in groups of normally, five boats. The Coast Guard was over the VOO operation. There was always a Coast Guard on at least one of the boats. They would tell us when to leave the harbor, where to go and how fast to go. They had flags on each of the VOO boats and also a transponder. Sometimes we would have one or more National Guardsmen in our group too, as well as an occasional safety man to monitor the air quality and procedures on the boat. If we found anything, the Coast Guard in our group would call it in to 'Seahorse' and they would determine what action would be taken."

Along with giving a clear description of how the Coast Guard was thus always aware of the findings of the VOO workers, her diary provides, at times, heart-wrenching descriptions of what is happening to the marine life and wildlife of the Gulf of Mexico.

"Before we went to work, I went down by the beach," reads her entry from July 4. "There were dead jellyfish everywhere. Some of them were surrounded by foam. A seagull was by the waters edge, as the foamy stuff continued to wash up. There was also a crane that appeared to be sick. It didn't look like it had any oil on it, but it just stood there, no matter how close I got."

On the morning of August 5, Shirley describes spotting a dead young dolphin floating in the water. "As we waited for the VOO Wildlife boat to come pick it up, we noticed a pod of dolphins close by," she writes. "Even with all the boats around, they did not leave until the dead one was removed from the water. It was very emotional, for all of us."

The next day, August 6, found her logging more death. "Last night on the news, they reported a fish kill. Before we went to work, I went to the beach by the harbor. The seagulls were everywhere. As for the dead fish, the only ones on the beach, were ones that the tide had left when it went back out. The rest of the 'Fish Kill,' was laying underwater, on the bottom.

         Dead flounder among fish kill, August 6, 2010. (Photo: Shirley Tillman), Pass Christian, Ms.

It was mainly flounder and crab. We only spotted two dead flounder floating that day. I can only imagine how many were on the bottom ... I went back to the beach after work. The tide had gone out and the seagulls were eating all the dead fish that had been exposed. You could still see dead fish underwater, still on the bottom. Dead fish don't float anymore?"

The Tillman's primary concern is the rampant use of toxic dispersants by what they described as private contractors working in unregistered boats, that regularly were going out into the Gulf as they and other VOO teams were coming in from their days' work. There was, oftentimes, so much dispersant on top of the water, their boat left a trail. Click HERE... for more including excellent pictures taken by the Tillman's.

Dispersant remnant, June 26, 2010. (Photo: Shirley Tillman) Pass Christian, Ms.


An Open Letter to US EPA, Region 6

By: Riki Ott, Marine toxicologist and Exxon Valdez survivor
Huffington Post
Posted: August 27, 2010 03:27 PM

Sam Coleman
U.S. EPA, Region 6
1445 Ross Ave.
Dallas, TX 75202-2733 Via email:

August 27, 2010

Re: Documentation of continued dispersant spraying in near shore and inland waters from Florida to Louisiana (despite contrary claims by USCG and BP) and documentation that dispersants made oil sink.

Dear Mr. Coleman,

During the August 25 Dockside Chat in Jean Lafitte, LA, it came to our attention that the federal agencies were unaware -- or lacking proof -- of the continued spraying of dispersants from Louisiana to Florida. Further, the federal agencies were woefully ignorant of the presence of subsurface oil-dispersant plumes and sunken oil on ocean and estuary water bottoms. We offer evidence to support our statements, including a recently declassified subsurface assessment plan from the Incident Command Post.

But first, you mentioned that such activities (continued spraying of dispersants and sinking oil) -- if proven -- would be "illegal." As you stated, sinking agents are not allowed in oil spill response under the National Contingency Plan Subpart J §300.910 (e): "Sinking agents shall not be authorized for application to oil discharges."

We would like to know under what laws (not regulations) such activities are illegal and what federal agency or entity has the authority to hold BP accountable, if indeed, such activity is illegal. It is not clear that the EPA has this authority.

For example, on May 19, the EPA told BP that it had 24 hours to choose a less toxic form of chemical dispersants and must apply the new form of dispersants within 72 hours of submitting the list of alternatives. Spraying of the Corexit dispersants continued unabated. On May 26, the EPA and Coast Guard told BP to eliminate the use of surface dispersants except in rare cases where there may have to be an exemption and to reduce use of dispersants by 75 percent. Yet in a letter dated July 30, the congressional Subcommittee on Energy and the Environment reported the USCG on-scene commander (OSC) had approved 74 exemption requests to spray dispersants between May 28 and July 14.

Under the National Contingency Plan Subpart J, the authorization of use §300.910 (d) gives the OSC the final authority on dispersant use: "The OSC may authorize the use of any dispersant... without obtaining the concurrence of he EPA representative... when, in the judgment of the OSC, the use of the product is necessary to prevent or substantially reduce a hazard to human life."

Given this history of events and the NCP regulation, we would like to know what federal entity actually has the final authority to: order BP to stop spraying of dispersant; declare that spraying of dispersant after issuance of a cease and desist order is illegal; and prosecute BP for using product to sink oil. (Editor's bold emphasis throughout)

The documentation of dispersant spraying in nearshore and inland waters includes:

√ claims by USCG and BP

√ eyewitness accounts

√ fish kills in areas of eyewitness accounts

√ photos of white foam bubbles and dispersant on boat docks in areas of eyewitness accounts

√ sick people in areas of eyewitness accounts

For more details on the documentation of the above  see THIS...


Exclusive: Gulf seafood poses long-term health risks, experts say

By Brad Jacobson
The Raw Story
Wednesday, September 22nd, 2010 -- 7:49 am

Despite repeated assurances from federal officials and President Obama, independent scientists and public health experts have serious concerns about the long-term safety of Gulf seafood consumption.

In particular, experts tell Raw Story, contaminants from the massive oil spill and unprecedented use of the dispersants employed to dissolve the spill have the potential to cause cancer and neurological disorders.

In interviews with Raw Story last week, scientists and public health experts expressed concerns over possible long-term risks from eating contaminated Gulf seafood.

Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are cancer-causing chemicals found in crude oil that can accumulate in the food chain, absorbed by fish and shellfish. During the ongoing testing of seafood in the Gulf of Mexico by federal and state authorities, PAHs are of primary concern.

But crude oil also contains heavy metals such as lead, mercury and cadmium that can accumulate in the food chain as well, though at a slower pace than PAHs, and are toxic to the brain and nervous system.

Another potential long-term health concern left in the wake of BP’s catastrophic oil spill is the nearly two million gallons of dispersant unleashed into the Gulf, much of it subsurface, which made both the amount used and its use unprecedented.

In interviews with Raw Story last week, FDA and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration officials said that all fish and shellfish in reopened federal and state waters have tested well beneath the level of concern for PAHs.

But what worries some scientists and public health experts is what these tests don’t -- and can’t -- reveal. They feel it’s “premature” for government officials to claim Gulf seafood poses no future health risks.

“Those are the short-term effects,” said Edward Trapido, the Wendell Gauthier Chair of Cancer Epidemiology at the Louisiana State University School of Public Health.

“We don’t know the long-term effects,” he explained. “And we don’t know, particularly related to cancer and particularly related to age and exposure, what the long-term effects will be.”

Trapido testified in June at a House Subcommittee on Energy and Environment hearing on the spill and is heading a research group at LSU that will look at a range of health effects, including psychiatric and behavioral effects, chronic diseases and cancers.

The issue we don’t know at this point, he said, is the extent to which these compounds may bioacccumulate in shellfish or fish and what the half-lives are.

“So you could imagine if a large fish feasted on several hundred small fish and each of those small fish have eaten a certain number of microorganisms which had a little of contaminant, there’s a possibility, certainly, that you could go over the current measurements.”

In interviews with Raw Story last week, NOAA and FDA officials, in general, tended to downplay bioaccumulation of PAHs in Gulf seafood. But in some cases they denied it’s occurring at all, or even that it could occur.

“We have not found it,” FDA spokeswoman Meghan Scott claimed. “Every sample that we have tested for PAHs has come back clean. It has the potential to [bioaccumulate]. But we have not found it, even from samples taken from inside of closure areas.”

Christine Patrick, NOAA spokeswoman for seafood safety, went so far as to tell Raw Story, “The concept that the oil bioaccumulates [in seafood] – that’s not correct. It’s metabolized and excreted.”
Raw Story confirmed, in consultation with independent scientists, that these two statements were, respectively, impossible and inaccurate.

Miriam Rotkin-Ellman, a staff scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), a leading national environmental group, underscored two things that NOAA, FDA and Gulf state officials have been playing down.

“The monitoring that’s currently being conducted by both NOAA and various different state agencies, and compiled by FDA, show that there is PAH contamination of fish in the Gulf,” she said. “They are detecting various different levels of the various different PAH constituents.”

Ellman, who contributed to last month’s peer-reviewed Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) study, which identified a number of issues about the health of Gulf seafood, also noted, “There is a good body of literature showing that seafood can be impacted by these contaminants.”
The JAMA report cites a 2002 study in the peer-reviewed journal Marine Environmental Research on the lasting effects of the Exxon Valdez oil spill, which concluded: "Our data show that 10 years after the spill, nearshore fishes within the original spill zone were still exposed to residual hydrocarbons. All biomarkers [for contaminants] were elevated in fish collected from sites originally oiled, in comparison to fish from unoiled sites.''

Ellman added, “We understand that the different types of seafood – fish vs. crustaceans and bivalves – all have different capacities to retain the contaminants, and that’s important to note. But it’s not the basis on which to make a blanket statement that there’s no risk.”

“So it’s premature,” Trapido cautioned, “to say that it’s safe in the long-term.”
“We can say that it’s safe at this point based on what we know,” he continued. “But as a cancer epidemiologist, which is what I am, I have to maintain an air of skepticism and say, well, we don’t have any data to make a judgment on the long-term cases.”

The startling lack of data on the future health effects from oil spills on humans was a common lament among experts who spoke with Raw Story.

Trapido confirmed that the longest follow-up study that’s ever been done on people exposed to oil spills was just four years, and that was to track mental health only.

Two new areas of scientific research not being accounted for in the current risk assessments could also adversely impact future health, Ellman noted.

She said that studies have shown that early life exposure to the chemical benzo(a)pyrene, one of the most carcinogenic PAHs, increases the risk of cancer later in life. It wouldn’t have the same effect, she clarified, if the exposure came later in life.

“So because children’s bodies are different and they’re developing, exposures that happen early in life can have a more detrimental effect than if they were exposed later on,” said Ellman.

In addition to the cancer risks, Ellman told Raw Story that there’s also a new body of literature that has shown adverse developmental impacts from in utero exposure to PAHs, such as delayed growth, low birth weight and other indicators of impact during fetal development.

NOAA toxicologist John Stein said that he and other scientists within the agency have proposed to continue monitoring the Gulf waters to ensure seafood safety for the next three to five years. But Patrick confirmed that the agency has not made an official commitment to this.

Independent scientists and public health officials who spoke with Raw Story agreed that even if federal and state officials committed to such a time frame, it would still fall short of what's necessary.

They pointed out that due to bioaccumulation in the food chain, it's quite possible contamination levels in Gulf fish and shellfish may actually be higher in three to five years.

"If they were to completely suspend any monitoring prematurely," Ellman warned, "we wouldn't necessarily know whether levels of contaminants in seafood that we're most worried about have gone back down or remain elevated."

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