The People Who Helped Clean the BP Oil Spill are Getting Sicker
Three years after BP’s Gulf oil spill and the damage continues. As proof that no good deed goes unpunished, those who helped clean up after the spill have been found to have weakened blood supplies, as well as a heightened risk of acquiring cancer.
Dr. Mark D’Andrea, a researcher at Houston’s University Cancer and Diagnostic Centers, found that the quality of health for many of the oil spill cleaners has decreased significantly. Though the subjects initially showed less significant symptoms like headaches, coughing, and rashes, years later, these same patients show blood irregularities, liver dysfunction and kidney problems.
Moreover, these health diagnoses tend to be early indicators of or heightened risks for various cancers like leukemia, lymphoma, liver, pancreas, or gallbladder cancer. It is expected that more of BP’s temporary workers will show signs of serious illness as the years progress.
The sad health news is a reminder that – despite what BP and the U.S. government have declared – the recovery process from the spill is far from over. BP may be prepared to absolve itself of further responsibility for the accident, but that doesn’t mean the environment, wildlife and human lives are done suffering the consequences.
BP has aired patently untrue ads that say, “The oil is gone from the Gulf and everything is as it was before!” even as sea creatures continue to die and – as of last month – oil continues to wash ashore.
Egregiously, BP is actually trying to portray itself as the victim at this point, claiming it is the subject of frivolous lawsuits because of the oil spill. A BP spokesman said, “Today we are working to ensure that our willingness to do the right thing is not taken advantage of and distorted to provide windfalls to undeserving businesses.” It seems that, from BP’s perspective, any damage that was readily apparent in 2010 must be fraudulent.
More than 150,000 people contributed to the oil spill cleanup efforts in differing capacities, meaning a lot of people could see their health decline after trying to fix BP’s mistakes. Many of the people that BP hired to tackle the problem were unemployed individuals desperate for an income no matter the personal risks.
The link between oil exposure and cancer is well established. Oil contains benzene, a carcinogenic ingredient that is readily absorbed through the skin. However, oil may not be the only culprit for the cleaners’ health effects: the highly toxic chemicals BP used to eliminate the oil are also suspected to have played a role.
In a prepared statement, BP declared, “Based on extensive monitoring conducted by BP and the federal agencies, response worker and or public exposures to dispersants were well below levels that would pose a health or safety concern.”
Unfortunately, BP is likely to get off easy when it comes to caring for these workers down the road. While BP must pay for medical bills for situations that are provably caused by oil exposure, substantiating just that will be no simple task. Since research on the health consequences for previous groups of oil spill cleaners is essentially nonexistent, former temp workers may have a hard time demonstrating a corporation with billions of dollars on its side was conclusively responsible for their cancer.
BP’s response to the latest study is predictable: rather than acknowledging any responsibility for the workers’ health problems, the company has chosen to attack the validity of the research.
Meanwhile, D’Andrea and his research team intend to continue working with the affected oil spill cleaners. The next step is to examine them for long-lasting lung and respiratory repercussions.
Photo Credit: Kris Krug