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Report Update Details Corexit's Devastating Effect in Gulf Area as EPA Considers Dispersant Reform

April 24, 2015
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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

EPA Seeks Public Comment for Proposed Rule, GAP Dispersant Investigation Documents Long-term Damage to Human Health, Environment Five Years After BP Gulf Disaster

(WASHINGTON) – On Earth Day, the Government Accountability Project (GAP) released new investigative findings in an addendum to its 2013 investigative report, Deadly Dispersants in the Gulf: Are Public Health and Environmental Tragedies the New Norm for Oil Spill Cleanups? The new evidence further demonstrates devastating long-term effects on human health and the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem stemming from BP and the federal government's unprecedented use of the dispersant Corexit after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. GAPs findings were submitted as a public comment to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed rule to Subpart J of the National Oil and Hazardous Substances Pollution Contingency Plan that governs the use of dispersants.

GAP, the nation's leading whistleblower protection and advocacy organization, launched this investigation in August 2011 after repeatedly hearing from Gulf residents and cleanup workers that official government and BP statements on dispersant safety were false and misleading. Since that time, GAP has collected data and evidence from those whistleblowers who experienced the cleanup’s effects firsthand. Contrary to BP and government rhetoric that dispersants are as safe as Dawn dishwashing soap, evidence suggests that the use of Corexit has been more destructive to human health and the environment than the spill itself.

The only so-called advantage of Corexit is the false impression that the oil has disappeared. In reality, the oil/Corexit mixture becomes over 50 times more toxic than the oil alone and sinks to the seafloor, where in the Gulf it has poisoned the ecosystem from coral to seafood, and threatens devastating medical consequences for residents and tourists.

Corexit and other toxic dispersants remain listed on the National Contingency Plan (NCP) – the federal government’s blueprint for acceptable responses after oil spills and hazardous substance releases. The EPA is in the process of updating these outdated and inadequate regulations. GAP’s report illustrates the imperative for the EPA to implement responsible dispersant regulations that limit human health and environmental impacts.

GAPs latest investigation surveys updated evidence from the past two years and reinforces, or in some cases is more severe than, original report findings. To produce the addendum report, GAP investigators interviewed more than a dozen whistleblowers with firsthand accounts of Corexit’s devastating cost five years after the BP disaster. Witnesses ranged from cleanup workers and fishermen, to scientists, residents and a physician. While many chose to remain confidential or speak only on background, four whistleblowers have provided full affidavits about their experiences, made publicly available in the report (select excerpts from these affidavits and additional statements can be found at the end of this press release).

The latest evidence found that the public health consequences remain nightmarish. Dozens of whistleblowers have reported crippling physical and mental damage from exposure to Corexit, including severe loss of respiratory capacity, seizures, multiple chemical sensitivity, hyper-allergic reactions, drastic weight loss, and severe decreases in IQ. Cancer rates are already increasing sharply in Gulf communities exposed to Corexit. These symptoms are consistent with warnings on the manufacturer label, which states that Corexit’s potential human health hazard is high, and exposure could cause central nervous system effects, injury to red blood cells, as well as kidney and liver damage.

As offshore drilling expands off U.S. coasts, it is inevitable that other incidents will occur. Yet, in the wake of the BP oil spill “cleanup,” the oil industry relies on toxic dispersants as its tool of choice for spill response efforts. If this vision becomes reality, GAP findings warn that long-term destruction to our health and environment will expand exponentially and become the norm after significant spills.

“The EPA-proposed rule on dispersant use could not be more urgent. BP’s assertions that Corexit is as safe as dish soap have flunked the test of time. This toxic dispersant’s use has created a public health disaster, of which the tragic scope is still emerging,” said GAP Investigator Shanna Devine, lead author of the report.

“As offshore drilling expands off U.S. coasts, it is inevitable that other incidents will occur, and BP has declared it will continue to use toxic dispersants as long as the government permits.”

On Earth Day, Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) reintroduced the Ban Toxic Dispersants Act of 2015, which would require a temporary moratorium on the use of dispersants until rulemaking and a study to ensure their safety is complete.

The addendum report is available for downloading at: www.whistleblower.org/GulfTruth

The executive summary of GAPs original report “Deadly Dispersants in the Gulf” can be found at: http://bit.ly/1DmZWeP

Select Excerpts from Whistleblower Affidavits and Statements

“My feelings on this matter are that it would be an abomination for us to continue to allow this chemical (Corexit) to be used in light of the likelihood that is was responsible for the horrendous illnesses that have been experienced by my patients. Unfortunately, these illnesses have been cleverly hidden from public recognition and most of the suffering of my patients has been unrecognized and ignored.” Dr. Michael Robichaux, Louisiana Physician

“During the cleanup there were frequently strong winds at 25 to 30 miles per hour. I believe that we were exposed to the Corexit, because the chemicals from it became airborne or got into the water. I frequently detected a chemical detergent smell on the days that Corexit was sprayed … To my knowledge, BP and the government were only supposed to spray Corexit offshore, not inshore, but it looked like there was dispersed oil inshore. The foamy water would spray the other workers and me in the face…”

- Randy Varney, Captain and Cleanup Worker

“I heard from other residents that when a dispersant plane was flying over Perdido Key it wouldn’t close its ‘sprayers’. I learned this firsthand. On March 11, 2011, I was sprayed around 8:00 pm. I went to get groceries out of my car and heard a plane. It couldn’t have been more than a few hundred feet above me, and the sprayer was wide open. I felt something spray onto my arm, and once it happened, I almost immediately realized what was occurring and held my breath. I ran into my home and instantly threw up … My arm was red and sensitive as my skin was exposed. I remained sick throughout the night, and I couldn’t eat or keep water down.” - Lani Kaiser, Florida Resident

“My long-term memory seems to still be intact; however, my short term memory has vanished. I have notebooks sitting beside me right now, because throughout the day I have to make a record of my actions. Otherwise, I will not remember what I did or still need to do. I even have to refer back to my notes to remember people’s names. I rely on my wife a great deal to help me remember things. I never used to have that problem. I used to pride myself on my strong memory, and now I can’t even remember a conversation from a few days ago.” - David Hill, Captain and Cleanup Worker

“Before the spill it was never the situation where every weekend you have to decide which funeral to go to … My girlfriend who died in December at age 36 has three kids. She wasn't even sick beforehand; she woke up to a heart attack and died … Another friend of mine shot himself after his son was diagnosed with a terminal illness. His son died a month after his suicide from brain cancer. Another friend of mine just died of cancer … They all lived in this community. It’s like waiting for the other boot to drop. Who’s going to be diagnosed next?” - Kindra Arnesen, Louisiana resident

“My memory was really bad so I made a list of symptoms and it probably included 20-25 issues on it … I developed a rash that to this day only occurs when I come in contact with certain things. Anything from soap to deodorant would set me off, and fabric softener is really bad. I can’t wear cologne or aftershave, and I can’t even have hairspray in the house.” - Rocky Meadows, Mississippi Resident

“In addition to rising cancer rates, we have so any allergy problems ... Most people in our community are also living with awful sinus problems and migraines now. These problems were not common during previous oil spills or prior to the Deepwater Horizon disaster; they became widespread in the aftermath of the BP oil spill.” - Confidential Whistleblower, Seafood Restaurant Co-Owner

“I am hesitant to even come in direct contact with the Gulf water, and I know we have tourists down here who swim in the Gulf. BP did not want to warn the public of the ongoing public health dangers resulting from the spill … I’m concerned that people who do not know any better will swim in it and get sick and possibly get cancer later down the road.” Richard Russell, Captain and Cleanup Worker

“We have a spill here 365 days a year, from one to three every day. Three cleanup companies down here work every day of the week … They rigged up flat boats, jack up barges, and everything has dispersants on it now. They sprayed in the Mississippi Sound last in August, September and October of 2014 … One man I worked with on the BP spill still works for Oil Mop now, and their flat boat had the tank and pump to spray dispersants. I said, ‘Man, you all aren’t wearing masks?’ and he said ‘That stuff’s no more dangerous than Dawn dishwasher soap; it’s not going to hurt you.’ They’re convinced that dispersants are not dangerous.” - David Arnesen, Louisiana Fisherman

“Until recently, I helped run a seafood restaurant in Louisiana. [The owner] and I decided to close the restaurant after we realized that the seafood we served was contaminated by oil. I could not bear to serve other people’s children and grandchildren a product that I did not want my own children to eat. Gulf seafood is being shipped all over the world. Who is going to take care of those made ill by contaminated seafood?” - Confidential Whistleblower, Seafood Restaurant Co-Owner

“In July of 2014 we [examined] approximately 2,000 crabs … We are seeing tentatively identified compounds in the test results … The government should be doing this, because they have the money to run the analysis and see what the results are … [The test results] did find benzene rings in the crab samples, which I understand to be an indicator of oil exposure. Benzene symptoms include reproductive damage and it can make you lethargic.” Scott Porter, Marine Biologist

“Our season last year and the year before were devastated. We had very few king mackerel. They are migratory fish and they won’t stop if there is nothing to eat. They will keep going until they find a bait source that they can live on. That is the reason that we always had a lot of king mackerel and now we don’t have them.” David Arnesen, Louisiana Fisherman

Contact: Shanna Devine, Investigator, Legislative Director
Phone: 202.457.0034, ext. 132
Email: shannad@whistleblower.org

Contact: Tom Devine, Legal Director
Phone: 202.457.0034, ext. 124
Email: tomd@whistleblower.org

Contact: Andrew Harman, Communications Director
Phone: 202.457.0034 Ext. 156
Email: andrewh@whistleblower.org

 

 Government Accountability Project

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 nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C.

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