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Findings of study on health of oil spill cleanup workers to be released

Gulf Oil Spill - SettlementGULF OF MEXICO — When a BP oil well began gushing crude into the Gulf of Mexico four years ago, fisherman George Barisich used his boat to help clean up the millions of gallons of spew that would become the worst offshore spill in U.S. history.

Like so many Gulf Coast residents who pitched in after the April 20, 2010, explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig, Barisich was motivated by a desire to help and a need to make money — the oil had eviscerated his livelihood.

Today he regrets that decision, and worries his life has been permanently altered. Barisich, 58, says respiratory problems he developed during the cleanup turned into pneumonia and that his health has never been the same.

“After that, I found out that I couldn’t run. I couldn’t exert past a walk,” he said. His doctor declined comment.

Barisich is among thousands considering claims under a medical settlement BP reached with cleanup workers and coastal residents. The settlement, which could benefit an estimated 200,000 people, received final approval in February from a federal court. It establishes set amounts of money — up to $60,700 in some cases — to cover costs of various ailments for those who can document that they worked the spill and developed related illnesses, such as respiratory problems and skin conditions.

It also provides for regular physical examinations every three years for up to 21 years, and it reserves a worker’s right to sue BP over conditions that develop down the road, if the worker believes he or she can prove a connection to the spill.

Some 33,000 people, including Barisich, are participating in a massive federal study that aims to determine any short or possible long-term health effects related to the spill.

“We know from … research that’s been done on other oil spills, that people one to two years after … had respiratory symptoms and changes in their lung function, and then after a couple of years people start to return to normal,” said Dr. Dale Sandler, who heads the study overseen by the National Institutes of Environmental Health Sciences, an arm of the National Institutes of Health.

“What nobody’s ever done is ask the question: Well, after five years or 10 years are people more likely to develop heart disease, or are they more likely to get cancer? And I’m sure that’s what people who experienced this oil spill are worried about.”

Sandler planned to discuss some early findings Friday during a midday news conference.

The study is funded by NIH, which received a $10 million award from London-based BP, part of $500 million the oil giant has committed to spend over 10 years for environmental and health research.

Researchers compiled a list of 100,000 candidates, drawn from sources including rosters of mandatory safety classes that cleanup crews attended and from records of people who were issued badges permitting access to oiled areas.

They reached about 33,000 for interviews; and 11,000 of them agreed to physical examinations that include blood and blood pressure tests and measurements of lung function. Water and air samples taken during the spill also will be used to attempt to pinpoint how much exposure workers may have had to toxic substances.

Sandler emphasized that making any direct correlation between health concerns and the spill could prove challenging because many of the workers held other jobs that put them in contact with oil. Some worked with boat engines, did regular hazard mediation work or worked at chemical plants. Many also are smokers.

The researchers will try to account for smoking or other factors that could ruin health, and narrow in on problems tied to spill exposure. They plan to monitor the health of study participants for at least 10 to 15 years.

Aside from physical health, Sandler also is interested in knowing whether chemical exposure, in addition to the stress of working the spill, might have contributed to any mental health problems.

“We’re not in a position to say that yet,” she said.

Fisherman and former cleanup worker Bert Ducote says he knows the physical and emotional pain. Ducote said dozens of boils have turned up on his neck, back and stomach since the spill — and he theorizes, though shared no medical records that could prove, that his problems stem from the cleanup.

Ducote said he spent months handling the boom used to corral oil. Even with protective gear and rubber boots, he said his shirt often got wet with the combination of crude oil, sea water and chemical dispersant. Ducote, like Barisich, said he is filing a claim under the medical settlement.

“That has been a disaster in our lives,” said Ducote, from the town of Meraux, in coastal St. Bernard Parish. “The little amount of money they’re trying to give us, it’s never going to replace our quality of life, our health.”

In response, BP points to language in U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier’s order approving the medical settlement. Barbier noted that both sides said the settlement was a fair and reasonable alternative to litigation, and that fewer than 100 of 200,000 potential class members objected.

BP also lists numerous steps it took after the disaster to protect workers’ health, including protective clothing and safety classes.

Cleanup workers who faced possible contact with oil and dispersants were “provided safety training and appropriate personal protective equipment, and were monitored by federal agencies and BP to measure potential exposure levels and help ensure compliance with established safety procedures,” BP said in an email to The Associated Press.

Not all used that equipment, however. Dr. Edward Trapido, a cancer specialist and the lead researcher on a study of cleanup crews and their families that is underway at the Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center, said many worked without the protective clothing because of sweltering heat.

Trapido said results of the long-term health studies could help improve response to future oil spills and other disasters.

“Oil is not going away, and whatever kind of energy it is — whether it’s nuclear, whether it’s coal or oil — all of these have had problems in recent years where people get exposed to it,” Trapido said.



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  1. “Sandler emphasized that making any direct correlation between health concerns and the spill could prove challenging because many of the workers held other jobs that put them in contact with oil. Some worked with boat engines, did regular hazard mediation work or worked at chemical plants. Many also are smokers.”

    Watch out medical benefit class members. This sounds like perfect fodder for BP to use to challenge whether medical issues were “caused by” BP or not. This is the exact tactic the company is using to renege on the economic class settlement.


  2. Oil Spill Eater was requested for demonstration by Governor Jindal, and use by La Senator Crowe, Mississippi Senator Gollot, Alabama Senator Irwin, the city of Destin as well as BP with requests to the tw Coast Guard twice and the EPA. Governor Jindal’s fast track review committee of PHD’s and scientist from 4 Louisiana Universities including LSU reviewed all the technical information and history of OSE II, they determined OSE II should be demonstrated on Chandelier Island, after seeing a demonstration on the Lake behind the Louisiana State capital with several state senators in attendance as well as Homeland security personnel. OSE II was demonstrated 14 times on the BP Macondo spill with ABC news filming several of the demonstrations in three states. The OSEI Corporation worked with Evergreen aviation to prepare for the aerial application of OSE II by a 747 airplane, St. Benard Parish President Tafaro prepared to equip 100’s of small vessels with simple fire fighting eductor/induction systems to apply OSE II, and the US EPA Sam Coleman and EPA administrator Lisa Jackson stopped all actions with OSE II without a reason; and the result of there actions is extreme destruction of the Gulf’s natural resources, compromised human health, and great economic destruction. The EPA and Coast Guard continue down the same destructive path refusing to look at any response other than mechanical equipment and toxic dispersants, both, of which have proven woefully inadequate. The US EPA gets its charter from the delegated charge from the Presidents oath of office to protect the natural resources and health of humans, they defy this, and promote and develop regulations to insure a monopoly for toxic dispersants and mechanical clean up. The regulations the EPA and Coast Guard have written defy the clean water act, which renders the regulations mute, yet they try to hide behind the regulations as the reason not to advance oil spill response. A recent spill off the Coast of Africa was cleaned up with OSE II, after the spill of 550,000 liters covered 18 kilometers of shoreline with sensitive mangroves. The open water part of the spill was addressed immediately, and then the shorelines, in less than 29 days you could not tell there had ever been a spill, there was no detectable natural resource damages, fishing was reopened in a matter of a couple of weeks and everything was back to pre spill conditions. THIRD WORLD countries carry out a more effective safer response to oil spills than the US EPA and Coast Guard allow. During this African spill not one responder or community volunteer became ill, as is always the case with the US EPA and Coast Guard response, since they allow and promote the use of toxic dispersants. The EPA and Coast Guard have proven time again for the last 25 years they are unwilling to adhere to the clean water act as well as there own charter. The Oil from the BP Macondo spill for the most part is lying on the seabed, the OSEI Corporation along with scientists from MIT had developed a system to apply OSE II to the oil lying on the seabed to bring it to the surface and convert the oil to a safe end point of CO2 and water, and as of today are still waiting for the EPA to follow the laws of the Clean water act and use the most effective, safe means to remove oil from the environment, OSE II.

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