Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Sick Gulf residents continue to blame BP

Many people living near the site of the BP oil spill have reported a long list of similar health problems.

Oil, tar balls, tar mats, and dead animals are still common sights along the Gulf of Mexico [Erika Blumenfeld/Al Jazeera]
Just weeks after BP's oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico began on April 20, 2010, Fritzi Presley knew something was very wrong with her health.
The 57-year-old singer/songwriter from Long Beach, Mississippi began to feel sick, and went to her doctor.
"I began getting treatments for bronchitis, was put on several antibiotics and rescue inhalers, and even a breathing machine," she told Al Jazeera. The smell of chemicals on the Mississippi coastline is present on many days when wind blows in from the Gulf.
Presley's list of symptoms mirrors what many people living in the areas affected by BP's oil spill have told Al Jazeera.
"I was having them then, and still have killer headaches. I'm experiencing memory loss, and when I had my blood tested for chemicals, they found m,p-Xylene, hexane, and ethylbenzene in my body."
The 4.9 million barrels of oil spilled into the Gulf last year was the largest accidental marine oil spill in history, affecting people living near the coasts of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida.
Compounding the problem, BP has admitted to using at least 1.9 million gallons of toxic dispersants, which are banned by many countries, including the UK. According to many scientists, these dispersants create an even more toxic substance when mixed with crude oil.
Dr Wilma Subra, a chemist in New Iberia, Louisiana, has tested the blood of BP cleanup workers and residents.
"Ethylbenzene, m,p-Xylene and hexane are volatile organic chemicals that are present in the BP crude oil," Subra explained to Al Jazeera. "The acute impacts of these chemicals include nose and throat irritation, coughing, wheezing, lung irritation, dizziness, light-headedness, nausea and vomiting."
Subra explained that exposure has been long enough to create long-term effects, such as "liver damage, kidney damage, and damage to the nervous system. So the presence of these chemicals in the blood indicates exposure".
Testing by Subra has also revealed BP's chemicals are present "in coastal soil sediment, wetlands, and in crab, oyster and mussel tissues".
Pathways of exposure to the dispersants are inhalation, ingestion, and skin and eye contact. Symptoms of exposure include headaches, vomiting, diarrhoea, abdominal pains, chest pains, respiratory system damage, skin sensitisation, hypertension, central nervous system depression, neurotoxic effects, genetic mutations, cardiac arrhythmia, and cardiovascular damage. The chemicals can also cause birth defects, mutations, and cancer.
Joseph Yerkes, from Okaloosa Island, Florida, was in BP's oil clean-up programme for more than two months, during which time he was exposed to oil and dispersants on a regular basis.
"My health worsened progressively," Yerkes said. "Mid-September [2010] I caught a cold that worsened until I went to a doctor, who gave me two rounds of antibiotics for the pneumonia-like symptoms, and he did blood tests and found high levels of toxic substances in my blood that he told me came from the oil and dispersants."
Since then, his life has been overrun with health problems and trying to get compensation from BP for his health costs and lost livelihood.
"They've [BP] not paid me a dime, and I'm scared," Yerkes, whose lawyers were told by the Gulf Coast Claims Facility, which was set up by BP to administer compensation payments, that his health claim was "compensable". Yerkes added, "I'm moving out of my house into a one-bedroom apartment, and have sold just about everything I have. BP is starving us out."
Yerkes has begun cutting out parts of the detoxification programme his doctor had prescribed for him because he can't afford it. He then began getting sick again.
"If they [BP] don't do what they agreed to do, I'm in trouble. "
Joseph Yerkes 
"I don't know what I'll do now," Yerkes added, "Because I've spent $50,000 on medical, treatments, supplements, and having to move from the Gulf. If they [BP] don't do what they agreed to do, I'm in trouble."
His memory loss has become so bad that Yerkes has tried to adjust his life around it by leaving himself notes. Some days, his body aches so much, and his nausea is so severe, he is unable to get out of bed.
"I consider myself a tough person, but this has been the hardest thing I've ever had to go through," he said.
'Dying from the inside out'
Presley lives three blocks from the coast with her daughter, 30-year-old Daisy Seal, who has also become extremely sick.
Both of them had their blood tested for the chemicals present in BP's oil, and six out of the 10 chemicals tested for were present.
Daisy Seal has had skin rashes, respiratory problems, and two miscarriages, which she attributes to chemicals from BP's oil and toxic dispersants [Erika Blumenfeld/Al Jazeera]
"I started having respiratory problems, a horrible skin rash, headaches, nosebleeds, low energy, and trouble sleeping," Seal told Al Jazeera. "And I now feel like I'm dying from the inside out."
Seal, who already has an eight-year-old son, has had two miscarriages in the last year.
"In 'Generations at Risk', medical doctor Ted Schettler and others warn that solvents can rapidly enter the human body," Dr Riki Ott, a toxicologist, marine biologist, and Exxon Valdez survivor, told Al Jazeera. "They evaporate in air and are easily inhaled, they penetrate skin easily, and they cross the placenta into fetuses. For example, 2-butoxyethanol [a chemical used in Corexit, an oil dispersant] is a human health hazard substance; it is a fetal toxin and it breaks down blood cells, causing blood and kidney disorders."
"Solvents dissolve oil, grease, and rubber," Ott continued. "Spill responders have told me that the hard rubber impellors in their engines and the soft rubber bushings on their outboard motor pumps are falling apart and need frequent replacement. Given this evidence, it should be no surprise that solvents are also notoriously toxic to people, something the medical community has long known."
Dr Rodney Soto, a medical doctor in Santa Rosa Beach, Florida, has been testing and treating patients with high levels of oil-related chemicals in their blood streams.
These chemicals are commonly referred to as Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs).
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