Health Concerns in BP's Own Manual Raise Questions
Anonymous Whistleblower Provides Document;
Groups Send Letter as Settlement Looms
(Washington, DC) – Today, GAP and the Louisiana Environmental Action Network (LEAN) sent a joint letter to British Petroleum (BP) America’s Ombudsman Program, seeking an explanation for a resource manual provided by an anonymous source that details health risks for Deepwater Horizon spill cleanup workers from both the five million gallons of oil, and the two million gallons of toxic dispersant.
The manual, “Deepwater Horizon MC252, Vessels of Opportunity Near Shore Oil Recovery Groups, Vessel Captains Hazard Communication” (available at http://goo.gl/ny9hF) demonstrates apparent contradictions between BP’s official written warnings about the oil dispersant, on the one hand, and its statements to the public on the other. The discrepancies pertain to verbal claims that exposure to COREXIT, the dispersant selected by BP and approved by the EPA to treat the oil, was safe, and the health problems actually associated with COREXIT listed in a BP manual.
To illustrate our concerns, BP has aerially sprayed or otherwise released over two million gallons of COREXIT as the primary dispersant in the spill’s cleanup. BP and contractors have reassured cleanup crews that COREXIT is as safe as Dawn dishwasher soap. However, the manufacturer’s Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) included in the manual indicate that the dispersants utilized contain hazardous ingredients such as 2 butoxyethanol, petroleum distillates, and sulfonic acids. The specific petroleum distillates and sulfonic acids within COREXIT EC9257A and EC9500A have never been disclosed to the public.
The manual lists symptoms of exposure, such as damage to the central nervous system, chemical pneumonia, upper respiratory problems and injury to the kidney, liver or red blood cells (hemolysis). Further, the manual recognizes that crude oil contains benzene and other hazardous chemicals that can cause cancer.
The BP manual states that COREXIT is a chronic and acute health hazard under EPA standards, and its toxicity is so severe that special protective equipment and clothing are necessities. But LEAN and GAP have received numerous reports that when cleanup workers sought additional safety equipment, such as respirators donated by LEAN, they were threatened with termination.
GAP Legal Director Tom Devine commented, “BP public statements and private reassurances are schizophrenic. This company needs to come clean with the truth about its cleanup. Did it knowingly abandon public health and occupational safety?”
“This is about protecting people’s lives. There is no room for unclear communication or restricted information when it comes to protecting human health,” adds Marylee Orr, Executive Director of the Louisiana Environmental Action Network.
The associated symptoms listed in the BP manual mirror the health problems experienced by cleanup workers from the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill, but legal settlements have obliged the courts to seal those health records, so neither the public nor the BP cleanup workers can access them. In the meantime, the fate of these BP workers could be determined any day. The largest environmental trial in US history, scheduled to begin last Monday, was delayed in the 11th hour due to negotiation developments between BP, plaintiff attorneys and the Department of Justice. The trial has been rescheduled for Monday, March 5.
The letter concludes “If statements to the public and work force cannot be reconciled, we seek your explanation for BP’s repeated denials of any intentional action that could have threatened public health and safety.”
The Louisiana Environmental Action Network (LEAN) has been actively monitoring BP’s cleanup efforts and health problems since the spill, and GAP has been conducting a whistleblower investigation since last August.
The Government Accountability Project is the nation’s leading whistleblower protection organization. Through litigating whistleblower cases, publicizing concerns and developing legal reforms, GAP’s mission is to protect the public interest by promoting government and corporate accountability. Founded in 1977, GAP is a non-profit, non-partisan advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C.