Sickness and Secrecy

Forty days and forty nights into the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster and BP is still sticking to the corporate cover-your-ass play book Exxon wrote after the Exxon Valdez spill in 1989 and may even be adding a new chapter or two.

As I mentioned two weeks ago, BP’s doing a much better job on the news censorship front than it is on the stopping-the-oil-spew front (although it’s hard to imagine how it could be worse on the latter).

The Washington Post (among other outlets) is reporting Southern Seaplanes of Belle Chasse, LA was temporarily banned from airspace over the spill until they raised hell and called attention to what was up. When I was in Louisiana, our folks rode with Southern Seaplanes a few times. Southern took numerous media personnel up. A Plaqumines Parish official who tried to charter a Southern Seaplane during the ban was told that if he wanted to fly the spill zone, he’d have to contract with a seaplane outfit approved by BP. (Disclosure – I got the story about the official second-hand, but it fits with the general pattern that’s been reported.)

Daniel Beltra, a photographer contracted by Greenpeace to document the oil was given the ground level run around. After being sent to two different offices to get a permit to walk on the beach (!), he was told he had to apply to BP. So he did, and they allowed him to visit a beach, one they chose (not very dirty), as long as he had a BP escort, who decided when the visit was over. Again, this fits the general pattern, as Mac McClelland of Mother Jones reports. (What’s that First Amendment thing again?)

As sickening as censorship is to a free society, there’s actual sickness around the BP spew, too. Fishermen hired by BP to drag booms and sorbent “pom-poms” through the slick have been reporting nausea, vomiting, eye and lung irritation – all classic symptoms of exposure to volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Crude oil contains VOCs, which evaporate at low temperatures, much lower than those out on the waters of the gulf. There’s more at stake than just a story for these folks, but once again, BP is putting its needs ahead of those people whose lives have already been wrecked by BP’s callous carelessness.

Tony “I want my life back” Hayward attributes the fishermen’s illness to food poisoning – a mass outbreak of food poisoning among the fishermen who are sitting on top of BP’s oil spew, breathing VOCs.

When I was in Louisiana, I was given a copy of a contract BP wanted fishermen to sign, if they wanted work cleaning the spewed oil. It included a section called “Appendix 8 Voluntary Release and Waiver” which called for the fishermen to grant BP prior indemnification should they be injured using BP’s equipment (because, you know, BP’s equipment never fails).

I was later told BP withdrew the appendix in the face of protests by the fishermen. Again, the news of that withdrawal is second hand. Who knows what kind of bogus contracts and gag orders BP’s attorneys have passed around to victims and may or may not try to enforce? And maybe enforcement later on is beside the point; maybe the point is intimidation now.

The latest news is that Corexit, the toxic dispersant BP has pumped into the gulf (almost a million gallons now), is being found in air samples. The federal EPA ordered BP to stop using it. BP ignored the order.

The Gulf of Mexico is where the new Gulf War is being fought. We’re losing.

© Mark Floegel. 2010

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