Gulf Health Problems Blamed on Dispersed Oil

Published on
by
Inter Press Service

Gulf Health Problems Blamed on Dispersed Oil

by
Dahr Jamail

Orange colored chemical dispersant is seen in the water as it is used to help with the massive oil spill in May 2010, in Breton and Chandeleur sounds off the coast of Louisiana. (AFP/Getty Images/File/Joe Raedle)

DAUPHIN ISLAND, Alabama -
BP says it is no longer using toxic dispersants to break up the Gulf of
Mexico oil spill. Gulf Coast residents claim otherwise, and say they
have the sicknesses to prove it.

On Aug. 5, Donny Mastler, a commercial fisherman who also works on boats, was at the Dauphin Island Marina.

"I
was with my friend Albert, and we were both slammed with exposure,"
Mastler, told IPS, referring to toxic chemicals he inhaled that he
believes are associated with BP's Corexit dispersants. "We both saw the
clumps of white bubbles on the surface that we know come from the
dispersed oil."

Both of their eyes were watering and their
throats were burning, so Albert went to sit in his air-conditioned
truck, while Mastler headed home.

"I started to vomit brown, and
my pee was brown also," Mastler said. "I kept that up all day. Then I
had a night of sweating and non-stop diarrhea unlike anything I've ever
experienced."

BP has been using two oil dispersants, Corexit
9500 and Corexit 9527, both of which are banned in Britain. More than
1.9 million gallons of dispersant has been used to date on the Gulf of
Mexico oil disaster.

Pathways of exposure are inhalation,
ingestion, skin, and eye contact. Health impacts include headaches,
nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pains, dizziness, chest pains
and tightness, irritation of eyes, nose, throat and lungs, difficulty
breathing, respiratory system damage, skin irrigation and
sensitisation, hypertension, central nervous system depression,
neurotoxic effects, genetic damage and mutations, cardiac arrhythmia,
and cardiovascular damage, among several others.

Not along ago,
at the same marina, WKRG News 5 took a water sample to test for
dispersants. The sample literally exploded when it was mixed with an
organic solvent separating the oil from the water.

Bob Naman,
the chemist who analysed the sample, told the station, "We think that
it most likely happened due to the presence of either methanol or
methane gas or the presence of the dispersant Corexit."

As for
Mastler's physical reaction to his exposure, Hugh Kaufman, an EPA
whistleblower and analyst, has reported this of the effects of the
toxic dispersants:

"We have dolphins that are hemorrhaging.
People who work near it are hemorrhaging internally. And that's what
dispersants are supposed to do&And, for example, in the Exxon
Valdez case, people who worked with dispersants, most of them are dead
now. The average death age is around 50. It's very dangerous, and it's
an& economic protector of BP, not an environmental protector of the
public."

By early July, the Alabama Department of Public Health
said that 56 people in Mobile and Baldwin Counties had sought
treatment for what they believed were oil disaster-related illnesses.

Mastler
had a previous exposure when he was working on a boat for a BP
contractor and brought aboard an oil-covered absorbent pad he found in
the water. That exposure, too, found Mastler with rashes on his arms, a
soar throat, and nausea. He told IPS he knows many island residents
who stay inside to avoid toxic fumes that blow in from the Gulf.

BP
claims to have conducted air monitoring of oil-effected areas. A
written statement by the company says, "The monitoring data shows that
few people, if any, are exposed to levels of oil or dispersants that
have even the potential to cause any significant adverse health
effects."

Many scientists and doctors disagree.

"The
dispersants used in BP's draconian experiment contain solvents such as
petroleum distillates and 2-butoxyethanol," Dr. Riki Ott, toxicologist
and marine biologist, told IPS.

"Solvents dissolve oil, grease,
and rubber. Spill responders have told me that the hard rubber
impellors in their engines and the soft rubber bushings on their
outboard motor pumps are falling apart and need frequent
replacement&Divers have told me that they have had to replace the
soft rubber o- rings on their gear after dives in the Gulf and that the
oil-chemical stew eats its way into even the Hazmat dive suits," Ott
said.

"Given this evidence, it should be no surprise that
solvents are also notoriously toxic to people, something the medical
community has long known," Dr. Ott added. "In 'Generations at Risk',
medical doctor Ted Schettler and others warn that solvents can rapidly
enter the human body: They evaporate in air and are easily inhaled,
they penetrate skin easily, and they cross the placenta into fetuses.
For example, 2- butoxyethanol is a human health hazard substance: It is a
fetal toxin and it breaks down blood cells, causing blood and kidney
disorders."

Even the federal government has taken precautions for
its employees. U.S. military officials decided to reroute training
flights in the Gulf region in order to avoid oil and dispersant
tainted-areas.

Public health agencies operating in the region
have told their researchers who test the air quality to wear
respirators when they are offshore, and in preparation for a long-term
study of health effects from the BP disaster, the U.S. Labour
Department has started gathering data from thousands of workers.

Meanwhile,
physical evidence around the Gulf continues to mount daily. Ongoing
reports of fish kills and wildlife deaths are a daily occurrence now.

On
Aug. 5, in Port St. Joe, Florida, city officials closed a public boat
ramp following an unexplained fish kill in St. Joseph's Bay that caused
hundreds of dead fish and crabs to wash ashore. Witnesses sighted a
brown, sludgy material roughly six miles offshore.

"My voice is
gone," Mastler, speaking to IPS with a gravelly voice. "Another time I
was at the marina and got exposed again, I could smell the oil. I've
got a lot of burning in my mouth right now."

On Aug. 8 he said
that his urine was still "brown", but said he was starting to feel "a
little better". Given that Mastler already had a chronic obstructive
pulmonary disease, he believes he is "like the canary in the coal mine"
with dispersant exposure.

Over the last six weeks, IPS has
spoken with several people along the Gulf Coast who have complained of
skin rashes, respiratory problems, nausea, headaches, burning eyes, and
other problems they believe to be associated with BP's toxic
dispersants.

Mastler told IPS he chose not to work for BP because he never trusted them.

"That's
why I never went to BP, and I'm not going to, and I don't appreciate
the people they let die over this, and how they're making us sick, and
we've already had some deaths around this island," he added, "They put
untrained people out on the water, with faulty equipment, and with
faulty respirators."

On Wednesday, Mastler was still suffering.

"I'm
still feeling terrible. I'm about to go to the doctor again right now.
I might end up in the hospital. I'm short of breath, the diarrhea has
been real bad, I still have discolouration in my urine, and the day
before yesterday I was coughing up white foam with brown spots in it."

Mastler plans to file a claim against BP for his medical expenses.

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