Two-year-old Gavin Tillman of Pass Christian, Mississippi, has been
diagnosed with severe upper respiratory, sinus, and viral infections.
His temperature has reached more than 39 degrees since September 15, yet
his sicknesses continues to worsen.
His parents, some doctors, and environmental consultants believe the
child's ailments are linked to exposure to chemicals spilt by BP during
its Gulf of Mexico oil disaster.
Gavin's father, mother, and cousin, Shayleigh, are also facing
serious health problems. Their symptoms are being experienced by many
others living along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico.
Widely banned toxic dispersants
Injected with at least 4.9 million barrels of oil during the BP oil
disaster of last summer, the Gulf has suffered the largest accidental
marine oil spill in history. Compounding the problem, BP has admitted to
using at least 1.9 million gallons of widely banned toxic dispersants,
which according to chemist Bob Naman, create an even more toxic
substance when mixed with crude oil. And dispersed, weathered oil
continues to flow ashore daily.
Naman, who works at the Analytical Chemical Testing Lab in Mobile,
Alabama, has been carrying out studies to search for the chemical
markers of the dispersants BP used to both sink and break up its oil.
According to Naman, poly-aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) from this toxic
mix are making people sick. PAHs contain compounds that have been
identified as carcinogenic, mutagenic, and teratogenic.
Fisherman across the four states most heavily affected by the oil
disaster - Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida - have
reported seeing BP spray dispersants from aircraft and boats offshore.
"The dispersants are being added to the water and are causing
chemical compounds to become water soluble, which is then given off into
the air, so it is coming down as rain, in addition to being in the
water and beaches of these areas of the Gulf," Naman added.
"I'm scared of what I'm finding. These cyclic compounds intermingle
with the Corexit [dispersants] and generate other cyclic compounds that
aren't good. Many have double bonds, and many are on the EPA's danger
list. This is an unprecedented environmental catastrophe."
Commercial fisherman Donny Matsler also lives in Alabama.
"I was with my friend Albert, and we were both slammed with
exposure," Matsler explained of his experience on August 5, referring to
toxic chemicals he inhaled that he believes are associated with BP's
dispersants. "We both saw the clumps of white bubbles on the surface
that we know come from the dispersed oil."
"I started to vomit brown, and my pee was brown also," Matsler, a
Vietnam veteran who lives in Dauphin Island, said. "I kept that up all
day. Then I had a night of sweating and non-stop diarrhea unlike
anything I've ever experienced."
He was also suffering from skin rashes, nausea, and a sore throat.
At roughly the same time Matsler was exposed, local television
station WKRG News 5 took a water sample from his area to test for
dispersants. The sample literally exploded when it was mixed with an
organic solvent separating the oil from the water.
Naman, the chemist who analyzed the sample, said: "We think that it
most likely happened due to the presence of either methanol or methane
gas or the presence of the dispersant Corexit."
"I'm still feeling terrible," Matsler told Al Jazeera recently. "I'm
about to go to the doctor again right now. I'm short of breath, the
diarrhea has been real bad, I still have discoloration in my urine, and
the day before yesterday, I was coughing up white foam with brown spots
As for Matsler's physical reaction to his exposure, Hugh Kaufman, an
EPA whistleblower and analyst, has reported this of the effects of the
"We have dolphins that are hemorrhaging. People who work near it are
hemorrhaging internally. And that's what dispersants are supposed to
By the middle of last summer, 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.
"The dispersants used in BP's draconian experiment contain solvents
such as petroleum distillates and 2-butoxyethanol," Dr. Riki Ott, a
toxicologist, marine biologist, and Exxon Valdez survivor, told Al
Jazeera. "Solvents dissolve oil, grease, and rubber," she
continued, "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."
"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 (in Corexit) is
a human health hazard substance; it is a fetal toxin and it breaks down
blood cells, causing blood and kidney disorders."
Pathways of exposure to the dispersants are inhalation, ingestion,
skin, and eye contact. Health impacts include headaches, vomiting,
diarrhea, abdominal pains, chest pains, respiratory system damage, skin
sensitization, hypertension, central nervous system depression,
neurotoxic effects, genetic mutations, cardiac arrhythmia, and
Even the federal government has taken precautions for its employees.
US military officials decided to reroute training flights in the Gulf
region in order to avoid oil and dispersant tainted-areas.
Growing number of cases
And Al Jazeera is finding a growing number of illnesses across the Gulf Coast.
Denise Rednour of Long Beach, Mississippi, has been taking walks on
Long Beach nearly every day since the disaster began on April 20, and
she is dealing with constant health issues.
"I've had health problems since the middle of July," she said. "At
the end of August, I came home from walking on the beach and for four
days had bloody, mucus-filled diarrhea, dry heaves, and blood running
out of my ear."
Karen Hopkins, in Grand Isle, Louisiana, has been sick since the
middle of May. "I started feeling exhausted, disoriented, dizzy,
nauseous, and my chest was burning and I can't breath well at times,"
Dean Blanchard, who runs a seafood distribution business in Grand
Isle, is Hopkins' boss. He too is experiencing similar symptoms.
"They [BP] are using us like lab rats," he explained, "I'm thinking
of moving to Costa Rica. When I leave here I feel better. When I come
back I feel bad again. Feeling tired, coughing, sore throat, burning
eyes, headaches, just like everyone around here feels."
Lorrie Williams of Ocean Springs says her son's asthma has "gotten
exponentially worse since BP released all their oil and dispersants into
"A plane flew over our house recently and sprayed what I believe are
dispersants. A fine mist covered everything, and it smelled like pool
chemicals. Noah is waking up unable to breath, and my husband has head
and chest congestion and burning eyes," Williams said.
Like others, when Lorrie's family left the area for a vacation, they
immediately felt better. But upon coming home, their symptoms returned.
Wilma Subra, a chemist in New Iberia, Louisiana, recently tested the
blood of eight BP cleanup workers and residents in Alabama and Florida.
"Ethylbenzene, m,p-Xylene and Hexane are volatile organic chemicals that
are present in the BP Crude Oil," Subra said,
"The blood of all three females and five males had chemicals that are
found in the BP Crude Oil. The acute impacts of these chemicals include
nose and throat irritation, coughing, wheezing, lung irritation,
dizziness, light-headedness, nausea and vomiting."
Indications of exposure
Subra explained that there has been long enough exposure so as to
create chronic impacts, that include "liver damage, kidney damage, and
damage to the nervous system. So the presence of these chemicals in the
blood indicates exposure."
Testing by Subra has also revealed PAHs present "in coastal soil sediment, wetlands, and in crab, oyster and mussel tissues."
Trisha Springstead, is a registered nurse of 36 years who lives and works in Brooksville, Florida.
"What I'm seeing are toxified people who have been chemically
poisoned," she said, "They have sore throats, respiratory problems,
neurological problems, lesions, sores, and ulcers. These people have
been poisoned and they are dying. Drugs aren't going to help these
people. They need to be detoxed."
Chemist Bob Naman described the brownish, rubbery tar balls that are a
product of BP's dispersed oil that continue to wash up on beaches
across the Gulf:
"Those are the ones kids are picking up and playing with and
breathing the fumes that come off them when you crush them in your hand.
These will affect anyone who comes into contact with it. You could have
an open wound and this goes straight in Women have a lot more open
mucus membranes and they are getting sicker then men. They are bleeding
from their vagina and anus. Small kids are bleeding from their ears.
This stuff is busting red blood cells."
Dr Ott said: "People are already dying from this... I'm dealing with
three autopsy's right now. I don't think we'll have to wait years to see
the effects like we did in Alaska, people are dropping dead now. I know
two people who are down to 4.75 per cent of their lung capacity, their
heart has enlarged to make up for that, and their esophagus is
disintegrating, and one of them is a 16-year-old boy who went swimming
in the Gulf."