The BP oil spill is a never-ending disaster. Since the explosion of BP’s Deepwater Horizon offshore drilling rig more than a month ago, the oil leak has released millions of gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico, wreaking havoc on both fragile ecosystems and coastal economies. Shortly after the leak started, BP hired fishermen who had been put out of work by the oil spill to help clean up the mess. While BP probably thought it was doing the fishermen a favor, that “favor” quickly turned against the cleanup workers by making them sick.
A Health, Safety, and Environment (HSE) worker contracted by BP collects oil that reached the shore at Elmer’s Island, just west of Grand Isle, Louisiana. Concern is mounting over the health problems oil spill cleanup workers are experiencing. Photo By U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer 3rd Class Patrick Kelly/Courtesy Flickr.
The complaints vary from person to person, but many workers told the LA Times that they were experiencing severe headaches, dizziness, nausea and difficulty breathing. One man even told the Times that his eyes began burning and he became nauseous after just looking at piece of oil waste. Complicating the problem is BP’s failure to provide the workers with proper safety equipment. At a minimum, oil spill cleanup workers should have rubber gloves, rubber boots and especially a respirator to protect themselves from making skin contact with the oil or breathing in fumes. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration requires BP to provide adequate safety gear, but most workers don’t even have the basics. Reports from a few weeks back uncovered that BP wasn’t providing workers with respirators, and the Times reported that many workers aren’t even using gloves.
Although the short-term health problems are scary, if the fishermen continue to work unprotected they could face serious long-term health risks such as chronic respiratory problems and even cancer. If BP continues to not provide its workers with safety gear, the OSHA can fine the oil company. However, as many workers are afraid of losing their jobs, it’s unlikely that many will speak up.
The oil spill is endangering the health of the general public, too. The Environmental Protection Agency has warned coastal residents that fumes from the oil leak, which is 50 miles offshore, are strong enough to cause short-term health problems such as headaches, respiratory irritation and nausea.