BP cleanup workers are being ‘discouraged’ from using equipment like respirators because it makes for bad-looking pictures, R.F.K. Center President Kerry Kennedy tells F.N.C. (3:15):
Kerry Kennedy, president of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, was on the FOX News Channel (F.N.C.) morning show “Fox & Friends” after having interviewed workers cleaning up the ‘Gulf oil spill’. She “found that BP was trying to repress the use of safety equipment,” David Edwards wrote this morning at The Raw Story, under the lede:
BP’s logic seems to be that if the oil cleanup doesn’t look dangerous then it must not be. The oil company has told workers not to wear respirators because it’s bad for public relations, according to one human rights group.
He quoted the F.N.C. interview:
“In all three states that I’ve visited, fishermen said when they went out to work on the cleanup, that if they tried to bring respirators they were told it was unnecessary equipment and would only spread hysteria,” Kennedy told Fox News Friday.
“When I went out with eleven people, we had respirators on and within half an hour, all of our eyes were burning and our throats were closing and we all had headaches,” she explained.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), a division of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that provides scientific consultation to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), has sent a couple of teams to the Gulf. “As that work begins, BP has released limited test results aimed at tamping down public worries about the number of cleanup workers already reporting adverse symptoms,” Elana Schor reported today at The New York Times. Mr. Edwards continued:
Kennedy was also concerned that BP was refusing to release information about the contents of the dispersant being used.
“One of the things that we were told is that BP would not allow county health officials on to their campus. They finally allowed one nurse. They told workers that if they became sick, the nurse could only give them a Band-Aid or an aspirin. If they really felt sick they had to go to the BP doctors. So BP has completely control over the health care of those workers and what’s happening,” Kennedy told Fox host Eric Bolling.
Ms. Kennedy found there is county-provided healthcare available, but—and this sums up the whole BP policy of forcing workers to sacrifice their health for the corporation to attempt minimizing its plummeting public approval:
“The workers are concerned that this is the only job in town and if the go outside what BP tells them to do they might lose the only job they could get,” she said.
A lot of the cleanup workers are people, like fishermen, who are out of work as a result of the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion and BP’s oil gushing millions of gallons a day into the Gulf of Mexico. Commercial fishermen are allowed by BP to make claims, but are required to show their W-2 forms. The industry being a largely agorist cash business, the workers are unable to do so, Ms. Kennedy added.
BP is using government regulations to publicly defend itself without actually addressing the health risks to the workers. “‘All results to date are within safe exposure limits’ set by OSHA, the spokesman added,” Ms. Schor reported. She adds that experts find high risks under these “limits”, partially because they’re miscalculated:
BP’s tests also show some workers have been exposed to the carcinogen benzene, which came as an unwelcome surprise to an occupational health expert and veteran of the 1989 Exxon Valdez cleanup who agreed to speak candidly on the condition of anonymity.
“They’re trying to say it’s not that bad, but I’m looking at it and saying, wow—that would be enough for me to say there’s [notable] exposure,” this source said, adding that the number of air samples BP has taken is “shockingly low… you would expect a lot more sampling data, but it can be difficult to take a lot of these samples.”
NIOSH sets significantly lower exposure limits than OSHA for several chemicals being monitored in spill cleanup workers, including benzene and 2-butoxyethanol, an ingredient in a dispersant that is no longer used in the Gulf. In addition, several sources noted that OSHA exposure limits are calculated based on an eight-hour day, even though many responders near the leaking well are working much longer shifts.
Hunter College toxicology professor Franklin Mirer said that using OSHA limits to assess chemical exposure in the Gulf “is less than helpful for understanding the health effects being reported” by the workers who have already sought medical treatment.
“If the message here is that OSHA standards are being complied with and large numbers of people are getting sick, that’s a lesson about the value of OSHA standards and about the protective measures that ought to be employed,” Mirer added, likening the occupational health risks of the oil disaster to those at the World Trade Center after Sept. 11.
Government regulations that leave such risks add a very dangerous element to the equation; they skirt BP’s liability for cleanup workers’ long- and short-term health deterioration, even when BP prevents the workers from voluntary protecting themselves from the risks to which they remain exposed when BP is safeguarded by OSHA.