As out-of-work fisherman are called into action and people from all around the country flock to South Louisiana to lay boom and help clean up what may be this country’s worst environmental disaster when it is all said and done, there are questions about the physical dangers that those workers face.
Every day, as thousands of gallons of oil spew from the floor of the Gulf of Mexico, the parallels between Louisiana’s environmental disaster and Mar. 24, 1989 in Alaska, when the Exxon Valdez ran aground and dumped 11 million gallons of crude oil in Prince William Sound, are getting closer.
An article in the Las Vegas Review-Journal profiles one woman who was in Alaska and has sounded the alarm about the health hazards to workers:
“They called it the ‘Valdez crud,’ but it was more than a cough and diarrhea.
"We thought it was a flu that was going around and everybody kept getting it," said Merle Savage, who was general foreman of the cleanup crews of the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska's Prince William Sound.
“Instead, the stuff that was making cleanup workers sick was a toxic cocktail of oil droplets in mist they inhaled from spraying the shoreline with hot water and chemicals that were used to disperse the spill's massive black wave.”
What makes the cleanup so dangerous?
“One cleanup chemical, 2-Butoxyethanol, can be absorbed through the skin and cause blood and kidney damage resulting in headaches, respiratory problems and even death, according to the material safety data sheet for the dispersant, INIPOL, which was used in the cleanup of the Exxon Valdez spill.”
Savage says in the article that she suffered from a host of medical problems after working at the spill site.
"What we know now is the oil is 1,000 times more toxic than we thought," Savage said. "The BP spill is going to be worse. I'm warning workers to understand how toxic the crude oil can be."