The people who worked to clean up the Gulf of Mexico after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill are at an increased risk of getting cancer, leukemia, and a host of other illnesses, according to a new study released Tuesday in the American Journal of Medicine.
More than 170,000 workers were hired to clean up the nearly 5 million barrels of oil that poured out of the ocean’s floor, rising to the surface in oil slicks and globules. Not only were they exposed to the toxic oil itself — as the report points out, oil contains the carcinogen benzene — but they spent days working with the nearly 2 million gallons of dangerous dispersants used to break up the oil.
At the time of the spill, cleanup crews reported feeling dizzy and fatigued, suffering headaches and nausea. Workers have also reported increases in asthma and coughing up blood. Long term, those could be the least of their worries.
Workers who participated in the report were found to be at an increased risk for cancer, as well as kidney and liver damage. The toxicity can seep into a workers’ bone marrow, too, affecting their production of red blood cells, the Houston Chronicle reports:
The workers had decreased levels of blood-clotting platelets, as well as lower numbers for blood urea nitrogen and creatinine, which are indicators of kidney health.
The amount of liver enzymes alkaline phosphatase, aspartate transaminase and alanine transaminase in the cleanup workers’ blood also was higher than the non-exposed patients, a warning sign of liver dysfunction and damage.
Somehow, BP has repeatedly fought against claimants from the spill, insisting that victims are taking “money they don’t deserve.” The company has been recalcitrant about repaying those who suffered damages, going so far as to accuse businesses of fraud.
But their attitude toward the health and wellness of cleanup workers and people who live in the area has been particularly cloak-and-dagger. The company that sold dispersants to BP said back in 2010 that the “active ingredient” in chemical dispersants “is an emulsifier also found in ice cream.” A BP employee, meanwhile, apparently told people down by the Gulf that it’s “as safe as Dawn dishwashing liquid.” In fact, the chemicals are “acutely toxic.
Earlier this year, a whistleblower outed BP for having lied to and misled workers about the risks of oil cleanup. The company is also said to have downplayed the importance of safety protections.
BP may be fighting lawsuits for the spill and its aftereffects, but the company has been largely shielded from confronting the health damages wrought by the chemicals it used. But even if BP is forced to shell out millions to try to repair the damage, the company has money to spare. Its cleanup workers, however, don’t have that luxury.