“Each day it’s becoming more evident that BP’s oil spill… is not only an environmental and economic disaster, but a human health crisis as well,” said Rep. Lois Capps (D-Calif.).
If the Federal Government wasn’t prepared for the oil spill, there’s no excuse for not preparing for the inevitable public health care issues that will emerge.
There are at least two concerns: direct exposure to toxins in the ground, water, and air — and indirect exposure through the food chain.
To the first, data from the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill (small by comparison) shows about 1/2 of clean-up workers visited health clinics. Symptoms presented included headaches, dizziness, respiratory issues, swelling and burning of the skin that comes from either breathing in oil fumes or direct contact. The oil contains toxins (carcinogens) such as benzene, toluene, mercury, and lead among other chemicals. In Louisiana, we’re hearing clean up workers are afraid to voice these symptoms for fear of losing the income from BP that replaced their former livelihood. However, the evidence is that these symptoms are presenting themselves.
Given that, its unconscounable that BP or any other organization would any have clean up personnel deployed without protective apparel as evidenced above on Saturday, May 22, 2010 on a beach at Grand Isle, LA. Further, the National Resources Defense Council states that BP was telling clean up personnel in a 4-hour preparation course that “weathered oil” is not hazardous to direct contact. Similar statements by BP were also reported by the LA Times which quotes a fisherman as saying BP had told him the oil was “not supposed to bother us”, and so he wasn’t wearing gloves. We are setting ourselves up for a number of potentially serious and costly health issues in these populations for the years to come. Will BP pay for those too? Doubt it.
Further, beyond the oil itself, the process of clean-up can cause further damage to food ecosystem. Two fishermen quoted on NPR noted that chemical dispersants work by pushing the oil down to bottom of the ocean floor and cover sea life that’s fed on by fish and other sea life. In fact, they cause further damage to marine life because the oil gets into what they call the ‘water column’. They further noted the Gulf is one of two areas in the world that the Blue Fin Tuna (important to the tuna industry) spawn. The other is the Mediterranean.
We don’t know the real effects of oil on food and human health, and long-term studies of oil related damage on the animal and human food ecosystem are limited. But let’s not fool ourselves for reasons of regional economic necessity, or worse, let BP fool us for reasons of public relations, limiting liability or stock price.
The government has a solemn duty to protect public health, and that includes both the workers on site and the greater public that could be exposed through the food system. This is not a time for glib pronouncements — who could forget Christie Todd Whitman’s pronouncement after 9-11 that the air at “Ground Zero” was safe to breathe? We now know it wasn’t and the severe health issues of first responders years later proves that in stark detail.