by Grayson / Earth First! Newswire
A recent article in Newsweek outlines the shocking health problems, including neurological damage, that workers and residents at the 2010 BP oil spill disaster site have suffered in the three years since the incident. Considering the insane amount of oil spills that have taken place in the last couple months, it was too relevant to ignore.
As Newsweek writes, one victim of the spill, Jamie Griffin, was feeding cleanup crews during the disaster. Representatives from BP told Jamie that the oil tracking into her workspace was “safe,” and that she should “just mop it up,” which she attempted to do, having no idea the pain it was going to cause:
Within days, the 32-year-old single mother was coughing up blood and suffering constant headaches. . . Like hundreds, possibly thousands, of workers on the cleanup, Griffin soon fell ill with a cluster of excruciating, bizarre, grotesque ailments. By July, unstoppable muscle spasms were twisting her hands into immovable claws. In August, she began losing her short-term memory. . . The right side, but only the right side, of her body “started acting crazy. It felt like the nerves were coming out of my skin. It was so painful. My right leg swelled—my ankle would get as wide as my calf—and my skin got incredibly itchy.”
“These are the same symptoms experienced by soldiers who returned from the Persian Gulf War with Gulf War syndrome,” says Dr. Michael Robichaux, a Louisiana physician and former state senator, who treated Griffin and 113 other patients with similar complaints. As a general practitioner, Robichaux says he had “never seen this grouping of symptoms together: skin problems, neurological impairments, plus pulmonary problems.”
Cleanup workers were not the only victims; coastal residents also suffered. “My 2-year-old grandson and I would play out in the yard,” says Shirley Tillman of the Mississippi coastal town Pass Christian. “You could smell oil and stuff in the air, but on the news they were saying it’s fine, don’t worry. Well, by October, he was one sick little fellow. All of a sudden, this very active little 2-year-old was constantly sick.”
Much of this pain and suffering was not caused by the oil alone, but by BP’s response to the spill; as if allowing hundreds of thousands of barrels of deadly crude oil to flow into the Gulf of Mexico wasn’t enough, many of you may remember that BP used a “dispersant” to “clean-up” (read: hide) the oil. The dispersant they used was Corexit, a substance that has now been found to make crude oil 52 times as toxic. Corexit is still a standard dispersant used for oil spill cleanups, as it is approved for use by the Oil Pollution Act. This dispersant likely played a large role in the physical and neurological damage workers and volunteers are still suffering today.
As the article mentions, the American people’s ability to forget such horrible tragedies borders on the absurd. During the 2012 election, the majority of American people didn’t seem too concerned when both Obama and Romney bragged about their dedication to bringing more oil to the United States, and how much new pipeline they were going to lay if elected, while neither candidate spent much time mentioning climate change or protecting the country from oil spills and other environmental disasters.
With this much collective memory loss, I’m starting to wonder if some of this brain-damaging crude and Corexit made it into our drinking water…
More likely, though, this apathy was caused by ignorance. BP spent a lot of money covering up the true extent of the damage. According to Newsweek:
BP mounted a cover-up that concealed the full extent of its crimes from public view. This cover-up prevented the media and therefore the public from knowing—and above all, seeing—just how much oil was gushing into the gulf. The disaster appeared much less extensive and destructive than it actually was.
Sound familiar? That’s because oil companies use these tactics all the time. For example, after ExxonMobile’s Pegasus pipeline burst in Mayflower, Arkansas, on March 29th of this year, the oil-flooded suburban area was declared a no-fly zone so that pictures could not be taken of the damage, and the area was put in lockdown to prevent even neighboring communities from knowing what health concerns their families could be facing. Exxon even threatened to have reporters arrested when they entered the affected area. And just like BP (and all the oil companies dealing with spills at the moment), Exxon was absolutely unprepared for this kind of event. In a desperate attempt to look like they were doing something, they had workers clean the thousands of gallons of spilled oil with paper towels.
As long as there is oil there will be spills – and history has shown that the oil giants are unable and unprepared to deal with them. We cannot forget the length these companies will go to lie to the public, even when hiding the truth increases the damage caused by such spills. BP used Corexit to hide their spilled oil from TV cameras, knowing full well that by doing so they were increasing the toxicity of the oil, and thus the damage of the spill. And they did it anyway, just so they could pretend they were making the Gulf of Mexico less toxic.
There have been over a dozen spills in the last couple months, and if activists are unable to stop the construction of TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline then we can expect even nastier spills in the future. Oil from spills can’t just go away – and when it seems to, we need to seriously question where it has gone and what made it go away. Chances are, the answers will be dirtier than the spills themselves.
Regardless of how soon spills like the one in Mayflower, Arkansas, appear to be “cleaned up,” the extensive physical and psychological damage suffered by residents, workers, ecosystems and the climate will be irreversible. Let’s not allow ourselves to forget that.