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At the time, it was the worst oil spill the United States had ever seen.
It was 1989, and Merle Savage, then a healthy 50-year-old, had heard the news about Exxon Valdez. Compelled to help, she spent four months cleaning up Alaska’s oil-contaminated waters and shores.
She has never been the same since. Now 71, Savage still feels the toll that summer took on her health, but as she watches the reports coming out of the Gulf, she’s felt something else:
After all, the symptoms  seem to line up :
A flu-like illness . Dizziness. Nausea. Nosebleeds. Vomiting. Headaches. Coughing. Difficulty breathing. Many of the same things she experienced two decades ago; some of the same things she still experiences today.
“I had an upset stomach all the time. I was throwing up, fainting, I was having trouble with my lungs,” Savage said. It’s been 21 years. She said her health has improved over the past two decades, but still, “everything is not back to normal. It’s still difficult to breathe.”
Asked if there’s any doubt in her mind that the health problems in the Gulf are due to workers’ chemical exposure, she was certain.
“No. There’s none,” Savage said. “Let’s face it, crude oil is toxic. There’s no question about it. Anybody who says it isn’t has to have some type of interest otherwise. The fact that you’re out there in it, and the heat and humidity and fumes, you breathe it and it’s going into your lungs. I can’t imagine anybody thinking different.”
But there are people who suggest otherwise. The Coast Guard has suggested that heat, fatigue, or the smell of petroleum  is causing the symptoms. BP CEO Tony Hayward suggested over the weekend that the symptoms could be caused by food poisoning, which he said was “a really big issue when you’ve got a concentration of this many people .”
The comment has prompted public ridicule . But the suggestion that the illness is attributable in some way to crowded quarters is one that dates to the Exxon Valdez, when workers came down with what was then described as “a flu-like upper respiratory illness.”
Here’s an excerpt, from a 1999 article in the Anchorage Daily News :
Exxon and its main cleanup contractor, Anchorage-based Veco, acknowledged that summer that many workers got sick. But Exxon said then, and in the prepared statement now, that the illnesses were “a flu-like upper respiratory illness” that spread because of crowded living conditions on the barges where workers bunked. The illness became known as the “Valdez Crud” and Exxon said it spread even to lawyers and claims adjusters who had little direct exposure to the cleanup and its materials.
Exxon never revealed, and government officials never discovered, precisely how widespread the problem was. But years later, Exxon’s internal medical reports showed up in court records. They revealed that an unspecified number of the 11,000 workers made 5,600 clinic visits for upper respiratory illnesses that summer. The source of the illness was never identified.
Then , like now , workers were assured by the oil company and the government that tests had been performed to check for harmful chemicals, and that the levels found were permissible by federal standards and were no cause for concern. (On its website, the EPA says it is “concerned about the potential for long-term health problems related to the spill ,” and that it continues to monitor the air for toxic compounds.)
Then , like now, volatile organic compounds such as benzene  (PDF) were among the toxic chemical compounds found in air samples, but levels were low, and such chemicals are generally believed to evaporate quickly .
And then, like now, there were questions of whether appropriate safety equipment was provided . Savage says she was not given a respirator, but was given a paper mask that “didn’t last long” once wet. Other Valdez cleanup workers, like Jacqueline Payne and her son Jacob, told The Boston Globe in 1992 that they had neither .
Earlier this week, The Wall Street Journal reported that BP said it is providing protective equipment to workers who need it , but BP spokesman Graham MacEwen told Yahoo! News that “we haven’t provided respirators or masks  because all the environmental data shows the air is safe.”
BP spokesman Mark Proegler told me this morning that because air sampling results had been within permissible exposure limits set by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, “with respect to respirators, since they’re not required, we’re not providing them unless there are indications about volatile organic compounds in the area, which there haven’t been.”
“If volunteers have concerns, we deploy them to a different area,” Proegler said.
But the fact is, in spite of the air sampling data, cleanup workers in the Gulf are getting sick, as did their Valdez counterparts decades before. Numbers are sketchy, but a U.S. News & World Report piece published yesterday noted that reports of illness are on the rise .
We’ve reached out to the EPA, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, OSHA and the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals to obtain better figures on worker health complaints and hospitalizations related to the Gulf oil spill. We have yet to hear back.
I asked BP if it’s enough to say that data show conditions are safe for workers, given that they’re still coming down sick. I also pointed out that workers from Valdez who have been sick for two decades were told the same thing—that testing showed the levels of chemical exposures were safe. Proegler’s answer:
“Obviously it’s in our best interest to make sure everyone is safe, and every organization is here to test it and make sure it is.”
But despite such assurances, some are certain that crucial lessons from Exxon Valdez are going ignored.
“They’re not listening with what happened with Exxon,” said Savage. The workers “have to watch out for themselves. They cannot depend on BP and they cannot depend on the government.”
Savage has written a book, Silence in the Sound , about her experience as a female general foreman cleaning up a historic oil spill. I asked if she regretted the experience. She answered right away.
“Oh my goodness, yes, honey. Yes. A thousand times over,” she told me.
And then, as she had so many times, she stopped to cough and clear her throat.
WASHINGTON -- BP's plan to protect workers fighting the massive oil spill in the Gulf, which the Coast Guard approved on May 25, exposes them to higher levels of toxic chemicals than generally accepted practices permit.
As a result, BP isn't required to give workers respirators, to evacuate them from danger zones or to take other precautions until conditions are more dangerous. The looser standards are due in part to federal regulations that don't specify safety thresholds for volatile organic compounds, or VOCs - the principal toxins that threaten the health of spill response workers, experts said.
BP's plan also fails to address the use of more than 1 million gallons of dispersants so far in the cleanup.
"This plan is not workable and offers a false sense of security," said Eileen Senn, a former state and federal health and safety official for more than 40 years. "It gives the impression that you can write a procedure to dodge chemical bullets that are coming at you constantly."
Critics are questioning the quality of the company's plan as a growing number of oil spill workers are becoming sick.
The illnesses have sparked a debate about whether the Obama administration should be pushing BP to take more stringent precautions or even wrest control of the company's health and safety response.
More than 24,400 people are working on the response to the spill. Of the 50 workers who have reported becoming ill in Louisiana, most of their symptoms cleared up quickly, but a majority of the workers think the dispersants were to blame.
"Overall, BP's plan is not responsive to the health complaints we're hearing about," said Franklin Mirer, a toxicologist and Hunter College professor.
The Coast Guard didn't respond to repeated requests for comment. As a result, it's unclear what role the Coast Guard had in independently evaluating BP's plan or in assessing the adequacy of the safety standards.
On Wednesday, Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the Obama administration's point man on the oil spill, said he had "a lot of concerns about worker safety" given the hot weather and concerns about VOCs.
He said firefighting vessels have been dispatched to the area to spray a "water blanket" on the oil to prevent chemical vapors from rising.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration and BP are monitoring the air offshore and so far haven't found levels of toxic chemicals that exceed federal standards.
The BP plan, known as the Offshore Air Monitoring Plan for Source Control, allows workers to stay in an area when vapors are at a level that's four times higher than accepted practice to prevent an explosion.
The Marine Spill Response Corp., an oil and gas industry organization, recommended lower levels in the mid-1990s, according to a document posted on OSHA's website.
Even the accepted level "is a very high exposure from a health point of view," Mirer said. "At that point, workers should be leaving the site," he said, rather than just monitoring the situation as the plan requires.
However, Ray Viator, a BP spokesman, called the company's plan "aggressive" in its monitoring of toxins in the air and protecting workers. The plan, he said, applies to workers who are burning off the oil, applying the dispersant, drilling the relief wells and performing other operations near the source of spill. The company installed charcoal ventilation systems in the crew quarters and made sure respirators are on hand in the boats directly in the spill area although so far the equipment has not been used.
Originally posted by jjjtir
The whole field of Toxicology is downplayed again.
At least EPA asked BP to switch from Corexit to other less toxic dispersants.
(CNN) -- States are tracking the health consequences of the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, including respiratory and skin irritation problems in Louisiana and Alabama, health officials said.
The Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals is aware of 71 cases of oil spill-related illness as of Wednesday, said state health officer Dr. Jimmy Guidry. Of them, 50 involved workers on oil rigs or who participated in cleanup efforts, and 21 reports of illness came from the general public.
Symptoms reported by workers included throat irritation, cough, chest pain, headaches, and shortness of breath, he said. Eight workers were hospitalized, for an average of one day each, the department said.
In terms of the general public, odors from the oil spill have been related to most reported illnesses in Louisiana, the department said. Most people who reported oil-related sickness were 18 to 64 years old.
The state is keeping track of health complaints related to the spill through hospitals, clinics, first aid stations and a toll free number residents can call for Poison Control, Guidry said. People with oil-related symptoms are followed until they feel well again, which is usually fairly quickly, he said.
People who are sensitive to the smells should stay inside with doors and windows closed and with air-conditioning running, officials said. Consider contacting your physician if you are a Louisiana resident with symptoms and also have a pre-existing condition, such as asthma or other respiratory illness, the department said.
Monitoring of Louisiana's air has not found chemicals from oil that would cause a large negative health impact, Guidry said.
"It might cause people to have the symptoms we're seeing, but they're not long-term, and they're short-lived if you remove yourself from the exposure," he said.
Drinking water, also being monitored, is currently safe, he said. If hydrocarbons did get into the drinking water, that would mean that salt water has also infiltrated the system, which is also a problem; both oil and salt are being monitored, he said.
The state is working with the U.S. Coast Guard to make sure that ships coming from the Gulf are decontaminated and washed off before they come up the river, he said.
Local governments have closed beaches at Grand Isle and Port Fourchon, Guidry said.
In Alabama, which is also keeping track of oil-related health complaints, 15 cases of illness have been reported, said Dr. Don Williamson, state health officer. Ten of them had respiratory problems and five had skin irritation, he said. There was one additional hospitalization reported, but it is likely heat-related, he said.
The state has done extensive public awareness campaigns about avoiding oil exposure, Williamson said. The health department has issued advisories against swimming and all beaches have signs posted to that effect, but no beaches are closed, he said.
Based on air monitoring, there is no reason to close the beaches in Alabama, he said.
One source of concern is knowing when to lift the advisories against swimming, since they cannot be based on real-time water testing.
"This is not a tide of oil that comes in relentlessly," Williamson said. "You have these floating mats of oil and they may intrude onto the beach today, and tomorrow you may have no visible oil."
There are no known long-term health consequences of the oil spill, but the United States has never seen this kind of event before, Williamson said.
"You've got to put in place something beforehand; it's going to be very hard to reconstruct it after the fact," he said. "That will be an issue that we'll have to deal with across the Gulf."
Most dangerous chemicals in oil evaporate, and the substances in tar balls that have washed up on the coastline are not as toxic, because the oil has been weathered and the chemicals broken down, Guidry said. But coming into contact with oil could cause rashes, he said.
"Telling people to avoid the beach or to avoid the water, depending where the oil is, is probably wise, because for most people, if you keep it on your skin for any length of time, it will irritate your skin," Guidry said. "If there are a lot of fumes involved, it certainly will irritate your lungs, and your nose and throat."
Small children who swim in oil-contaminated water will likely swallow some of it, which may cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, Williamson said.
The beaches of Mississippi have so far been shielded from the effects of the oil spill, being somewhat protected by Louisiana and the barrier islands, said Liz Sharlot, spokeswoman for the Mississippi State Department of Health. There have not been any reported illnesses or beach closures, she said.
Florida does not have any reported illnesses connected to the oil spill either, said health department spokeswoman Susan Smith. Escambia County has posted advisories against swimming in the Gulf, but no beaches are closed, she said.
The Texas Department of State Health Services has not issued any warnings regarding the oil spill and is not aware of any related illnesses, a spokeswoman said.
Originally posted by Signals
Take this for what it's worth.
Lindsey Williams' reports from a "secret source".....
chemical...................safe level................recent EPA test of gulf area
Hydrogen Sulfide-------5-10 PPB----------------1,200 PPB !!!
Benzine------------------0-4 PPB----------------3,000 PPB !!!!!!!!!
Methalyne Chloride------61 PPB----------------3,000-4,000 PPB!!!!!!
(PPB = parts per billion)
I was listening to the show too and took notes
[edit on 10-6-2010 by Signals]
We are continuing to review EPA Air Quality Monitoring data, and any other air monitoring data that becomes available. Please refer to my previous post on air quality for information prior to May 26th. Below, I’ll post new summaries on a weekly basis for all locations along the Gulf coast.
We are focusing on the following top-priority air pollutants: hydrogen sulfide, benzene and naphthalene, because these are among the most hazardous to health. Hydrogen sulfide smells like rotten eggs and causes immediate symptoms, such as confusion, headaches, and respiratory problems; benzene is known to cause leukemia in humans, and naphthalene is an anticipated human carcinogen that has been linked to neuroblastomas, and cancers of the nose and airways. We’re also reviewing data on other pollutants; if we find any levels of concern, we’ll post that information here.
In my previous post on air quality, I used short-term risk numbers as points of comparison, but now this disaster is dragging on for months so I’m going to start using benchmarks for longer-term exposure. The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) has set benchmarks for some oil pollutants for short-term (1-14 days), intermediate (15-364 days) and long-term (> 1 year) exposures. In the case of hydrogen sulfide, EPA is taking 1-hour air samples at different locations along the coast in Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida, so these numbers are best compared with an EPA 1-hour benchmark standard.
Hydrogen Sulfide benchmarks:
Short-term – 1 hour samples: 510 parts-per-billion (ppb) (Mississippi, Alabama, Florida sites)
Short-term – 1 day average: 70 ppb (Louisiana sites)
Intermediate: 20 ppb
Long-term: Not available
Short term: 9 ppb
Intermediate: 6 ppb
Long term: 3 ppb
Short term: Not available
Intermediate: Not available
Long term: 0.7 ppb
I want to remind readers that the EPA air monitoring data is limited; residents and workers may experience stronger fumes (e.g. spikes in levels of one or more chemical), while others may not smell any odors at all. Anyone who feels impacted by fumes should go into an air-conditioned indoor environment until they feel better. This is especially important for pregnant women, infants and young children, the elderly, asthmatics and others suffering from illnesses.
Symptoms of exposure to oil fumes could include dizziness, headache, irritation to the eyes, nose, or throat, cough, shortness of breath, wheezing, nausea and vomiting. If your symptoms don’t go away within a short time after you go inside to rest, please seek medical attention. To ensure that odors and health problems are documented and to get advice on the appropriate actions to take if you feel sick, call the following resources:
To report odors
In Louisiana call Chris Ruhl (214)789-9587 or Mike McAteer (214) 354-9371 from the EPA
In Florida, Mississippi and Alabama, call the Joint Information Center (985) 902-5231
If you’re experiencing health problems, seek medical attention. Medical information is also available from the Poison Control Center: 1-800-222-1222.
Get on the map. The Louisiana Bucket Brigade is collecting information on the impacts of the Gulf Spill. Go to www.oilspill.labucketbrigade.org and report anything you see or smell firsthand regarding the oil spill. You can also text the information to (504) 272-7645, e-mail it to firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter #BPspillmap.
The air monitoring data so far appear not to be cause for major concern for benzene and naphthalene. The levels of hydrogen sulfide EPA is reporting is some areas could cause short-term symptoms in sensitive people and could potentially pose a long-term risk if the elevated levels continue. EPA scientists have reported technical difficulties related to this data and their current methods may overestimate the health concerns. We will update this site as new information comes in that helps clarify the hydrogen sulfide data.
And now the air monitoring data. Please keep in mind that the data are only as accurate as what is available from EPA at the time this was posted and sometimes data is missing or there insufficient data to calculate an average. Click on a location below to go directly to the data for your region: