One of the conveniences of Economics is to assume an infinite span of time. Thus if your particular model is unreflective of current events you can blithely wave the discrepancy away by merely asserting that it simply hasn’t worked yet.
While that motivational optimism is helpful on a personal level the fact is that people are finite, only institutions like corporations have the patience of immortality.
When Covering Up a Crime Takes Precedence Over Human Health: BP’s Toxic Gulf Coast Legacy
By Dahr Jamail, Truthout
Monday, May 14, 2018
On April 20, 2010, BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded. Over the next 87 days, it gushed at least 200 million gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico, creating the worst human-made environmental disaster in US history and afflicting the coasts of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.
Less than one year after the disaster began, I spoke with Fritzi Presley, a Gulf Coast resident in Long Beach, Mississippi, who was already very sick at the time. Her doctor was treating her for bronchitis, extreme headaches, memory loss and other symptoms which mirrored those of hundreds of other sick fishers and cleanup workers I had interviewed.
Her blood tests revealed m-Xylene, p-Xylene, hexane and ethylbenzene in her body — chemicals that MacArthur Award-winning toxicologist Wilma Subra had already shown to be present in BP’s crude oil. The acute impacts include those which Presley was experiencing, among many others, like damage to the nervous system, nausea, skin rashes, vision and balance problems, and ultimately, possibly even death.
“I started having respiratory problems, a horrible skin rash, headaches, nosebleeds, low energy and trouble sleeping,” Presley’s daughter, Daisy Seal, told me at the time. “And I now feel like I’m dying from the inside out.”
Seal is still alive, but her mother died last year at the age of 62.
Most media would allow you to believe that that disaster ended years ago. But if you were an oil cleanup worker, fisher or resident on the Gulf coast in the oil impact zone, the human health disaster is ongoing, and there appears to be no end in sight.
Truthout spoke with Presley’s very close friend, who asked that only her first name, Lana, be used. Shortly after the disaster began, Lana became involved in activism around the sick cleanup workers, which is how she met Presley.
“After the spill, she [Presley] would often walk down to the beach to assess the damages and talk to the cleanup workers,” Lana said. “Like so many others, she was emotionally devastated.
Lana went on to tell of how she watched her dear friend become weaker from her ongoing exposure to BP’s toxic airborne chemicals until she was unable to continue her beach walks. “She did have her blood tested for VOCs [volatile organic compounds from BP’s oil] at one point,” Lana said. “The results showed high levels of toxins known to be attributed to the signature of the oil and Corexit. No one knew of any successful treatments. Many professionals denied there was a connection.”
Presley developed chronic shortness of breath and told Lana she was only able to take “little sips of air.” In 2014, Lana went to visit her friend in person and found her to be far sicker than she had let on. Presley talked to Lana about the “log in her lung.” Three days later, Lana talked her into going to the ER, where Presley was diagnosed with pleurisy and pneumonia.
As Presley’s condition deteriorated, she was in and out of the hospital, and ultimately remained at home in hospice.
According to Jonathan Henderson, formerly with the Gulf Restoration Network and who now continues to work to help sick cleanup workers and fishers find compensation, more than 37,000 medical benefit claims have been submitted by cleanup workers, first responders and coastal residents, yet only a scant 40 of them have been paid for chronic conditions. And it gets worse.
“While the plaintiff’s steering committee for this disaster walked away with between $350 and $700 million in fees and the claims administrator walked away with $155 million, all the victims who were compensated shared in only a $60 million payment,” Henderson has written about the situation. “Those paid from that $60 million represent only a small fraction of the injured who helped in the cleanup and live in the designated impact zones.”
And not a single case has gone to trial.
Jacob Boudreaux worked as a deck hand on a utility vessel pulling up containment boom that was soaked in oil for days on end, month after month. While his vision was great before the disaster, now on some days he struggles to see. It’s the same with his lungs and skin, as he continues to have breathing issues, and his skin still suffers from rashes. He did not have insurance, so was unable to see his own doctor.
“I got a lot of oil on me, and that is why I’m sick,” Boudreaux told Truthout.
“BP sent me to a doctor, but it was their doctor,” he said. “They made me walk up and down a hall, took blood and urine, took some x-rays, but didn’t tell me anything was wrong, and never gave me the paperwork from the samples they took.”
Boudreaux said that “they always give me the runaround” whenever he attempts to acquire his test results.
“I worked that spill for more than six months,” he said. “BP was supposed to give us all kinds of Tyvek suits and respirators, but they gave us water, Gatorade and baseball hats for the sun.”
And now the only money he has received for his medical compensation claim is a scant $650, and that was only for the acute claim he filed from when he got sick on the boat. His long-term chronic claim has not been addressed, his lawyer recently told him he will have to wait three more years to possibly see any money, and he’s already been fighting it for six years.
“My vision and lungs are not the same, and I suffered from headaches for a month straight, even when I was off the boat,” Boudreaux concluded. “They have all the money in the bank, they just don’t want to give it to any of us who it is owed.”
Meanwhile, it is now more than eight years since BP’s oil disaster began, and practically nothing has changed as far as how the government responds to offshore oil disasters.
Nalco’s Corexit remains listed on the EPA’s list of acceptable chemical dispersants. Despite ample documentation of their dangerous impacts, the Obama administration did nothing to regulate the use of dispersants, and of course, neither has the current administration.
“If l could reach out to the people who live along the Gulf, and who vacation along the Gulf, I would tell them the water isn’t safe,” Lana warned. “I would tell them to go easy on the seafood. I would tell them about my friends and what has happened to them. I would tell them the oil is still there.”
Lana added that she would warn everyone of the possibility of being exposed to BP’s chemicals across much of her region and tell them not to go into the water. “I would tell them not to let their precious children dig too deep in the sand where the oil is still buried … people here just want their lives back,” she concluded. “It’s not over. Big oil companies lie, and they have very deep pockets. They spin lies and twist the truth, then the mainstream media complies by sending it out to the world.”
There are enough sick oil cleanup workers that an already massive and growing petition exists demanding they have their day in court for what happened to them. Meanwhile, tens if not hundreds of thousands of people across the four Gulf states in BP’s impact zone are sick and possibly dying, and there is no end in sight.
As we see with the “driverless car” fad, corporations are quite willing to accept a few fatalities, even with settlements, as “the cost of doing business”. That’s why there are punitive judgements where awards deliberately excede actual damages. The concept is to coerce the company into taking corrective action.
In the long run? We’re all dead.