Blog post by LABB Intern, Callie Casstevens
“The media has misinformed people, the issue is not with the chemicals but with the heat, it’s hot out there.” This is what I heard consistently at the community meeting in Thibodaux, Louisiana yesterday. The forum was set up like a career fair, with tables lining the walls of the room, men and women standing at the tables ready with flyers, pamphlets, and refrigerator magnets.
The health and safety table had smiling faces which greeted myself and my co worker Michael Schachtman, and the first thing I noticed was every single flyer on their table described the symptoms of heat stress, nothing about the dangers of being exposed to the oil, dispersant 9527, Corexit 9500 or methane. Nothing. In fact, one flyer suggested questions and answers for individuals concerned,
“I’m pregnant, can the oil harm me or my unborn baby?…Answer: Although the oil may contain some chemicals that could cause harm to an unborn baby under some conditions, the CDC has reviewed the sampling from the EPA and feel that the levels of these chemicals are well below the level that could generally harm pregnant women or their unborn…Generally, a pregnant woman will see or smell the chemicals in the oil before those chemicals can hurt her or the baby.”
Moving to the third table, test tubes filled with dispersant were front and center, with small computers showing planes flying over the Gulf dropping the dispersant. I pulled the patent out and asked, “The patent states the dispersant is supposed to be distributed 1 part for every 12 parts oil, but since we have never known how much oil has been coming out/spilling, how do you know you’re appropriately applying it?” The woman laughed, and stated she would let her co-worker handle the question. The man was from the UK, it was in fact his plane we were watching on the computer screen dropping the dispersant onto the ocean’s surface. His name was Andrew Nicoll, the advocacy manager for the Oil Spill Response and East Asia Response Limited Company, (OSRL), he stated that they had special areal measurements, taking into consideration the area/density and then applied it. Curiosity led me to ask why the UK banned the dispersant, in response he said that it failed the LC 50 test for the shore. By the way, OSHA defines LC50 as, “LD stands for “Lethal Dose”. LD50 is the amount of a material, given all at once, which causes the death of 50% (one half) of a group of test animals. The LD50 is one way to measure the short-term poisoning potential (acute toxicity) of a material.” That led me to question why the UK shore is any different than our shore, he said, “It’s not reaching you’re shore.” I than showed him pictures of Corexit slime that lines the shores of many beaches in the south. He simply stated it was not Corexit, simply sea foam. My last question to him was, “So, why is it used in the United States, is it because we have weak regulations?” He said, “Yes…..I mean no, I mean, the UK has very rigid standards.” Same thing sir.
One other significant event at this table was when one of the dispersant representatives stated, “Everyone is so worried about the dispersants, their safe! That’s why this last week we started to test them.” I asked, “We are going on Day 81 of this spill and you just now started to test for the health effects of the dispersants on individuals?” Her response, “Yea, but this is a new operation, this is all new to all of us, but yes we are doing testing, started last week.” I was appalled, “But yet you’ve been telling everyone at these community meeting for months now it is safe, but you’re JUST now doing the air testing, do you see the dilemma?” She points to a flyer and says, “If you don’t trust us, trust the government, they did air test and have said it is fine.” This leads me to who is doing air testing and why we should be concerned.
While standing with Michael, deciding which table to go to next, an EPA representative walked up to us, asking if we had all of our questions answered. There was still an elephant in the room I wanted to discuss, The Center for Toxicology and Environmental Health (CTEH), this is a private contractor which has vast experience with manmade catastrophes and “sampling” for safety. The last community meeting I went to in New Orleans, CTEH was present but had no insignia, no identification letting individuals know who they were, and repeatedly expressed how safe the area was, that the heat was the sole enemy of the workers right now. CTEH was hired after the coal ash spill a few years ago in the Tenneesee Valley, where they stated everything was safe, no dangers present, they were also hired for a paper mill who was being sued by an employee who had cancer after working around asbestos for 38 years, CTEH said it was due to his lifestyle, CTEH is also the company Murphy Oil Refinery hired after they spilled over one million gallons into a St. Bernard Community after Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana, declaring that their homes were safe and no dangers were present. Do we see a pattern here? They are a hired firm, they want to please their clients, which are companies who have caused disastrous events to unfold. BP has hired CTEH, and their results are being utilized and released. This conflict of interest is of major concern, and is a danger to the desperate need for transparency throughout this process. People’s lives are on the line.
I asked the EPA representative why they were working with CTEH, and how were they validating CTEH’s data, (since the EPA only one year ago cited CTEH for performing sampling that was directly contrary to OSHA/EPA guidelines), he responded, “CTEH…who? Don’t know em….” I pulled out a letter CTEH has on their website describing how they are a part of Unified Command, as in they are a part of the team of agencies working on the spill. He states, “Oh yea, we look at their data, they give us their reports, but yea…” When asked about the danger present, with there being a major conflict of interest since they are paid by BP to essentially say everything is safe and fine, he says, “Yea…that’s a danger.” He then stepped outside and approaching the Coast Guard once more, he described a trailer of air monitoring agencies which work in the same vicinity. Including CTEH. He stated, “Whereas they perform like 1,000 samples, we maybe only do 100…if something comes up in their tests that is high, than we may act on it…” Acting in response to CTEH’s results…a company paid by BP to do safety sampling/testing…once the EPA representative came back into the room to speak once more, he stated, “No, we don’t really do anything with them, who are they again? No, nothing.” I asked him about what the Coast Guard officer just informed us about in regards to the trailer of agencies, “There’s no trailer, no, nothing like that.”
Driving home we all discussed the lack of definitive answers, the lack of knowledge, the blatantly obvious disorganization between the agencies which are literally standing next to one another. It is a mess. We were able to come to the stark realization though, that the answers we received tonight illustrate the dire need for transparency, public information released that is easy to find and not a labyrinth of websites with spread sheets and longitude/latitude coordinates that no one understand where they are actually being taken. More is needed and less is getting done.