When the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion killed 11 men in the Gulf of Mexico and led to the worst oil spill in American history, BP promised to make everything right. But three years later many people BP hired to clean up the mess say their exposure to the chemicals has led to serious illnesses with no prospect of being fully or fairly compensated.
One such person is Jorey Danos. A video shows, he says, him wearing cold weather clothes even in the heat of August 2011, sick and coughing up blood.
“How would I describe what I was feeling? Living hell, it was a living hell,” Danos said.
Danos, 32, was a cleanup worker on the BP oil spill. His wife, Jolene, shot videos to document how they believe the chemicals he was exposed to impacted his health. Danos says he was part of the Vessels of Opportunity Program.
“We was skimming the oil. We was eight miles from the site,” Danos said. “We was eight miles from the site, oil everywhere.”
Other crews were pumping a chemical dispersant called Corexit into the plume of oil pouring out of the sea floor, and planes were spraying more of it onto the oily water from above.
“And it got to the degree that the planes started flying over us,” Danos said. “And when the planes started flying over us, you could notice the different texture in the oil, and the oil was changing and everything else, and we was sprayed direct.”
He says planes flew overhead several times when he was out there, changing a clear sunny day into a mist.
“How is it that you go from one-mile radius, to the next that it’s clear, and the next is nothing but a foggy mist that burns your skin, makes you cough?” Danos said.
Danos says a hazard communication resource manual was supposed to be issued to the cleanup workers. It calls for "safety glasses," "solvent resistant gloves," and if the Corexit dispersant is sprayed it says "an organic vapor mask or a particle mask should be used." But Danos says he and the other workers were never shown this manual.
He says he asked for protection -- a respiratory mask, special gloves and boots. “And they told me I'd be fired or I'd be relieved of my duties because it would be bad media attention.”
The next day he says his boss gave him a paper surgical mask and rubber gloves.
“Vapors and mist will just come right through it, so is there protection by this? There's no protection at all,” said Danos.
Today, Danos is on disability, says he has suffered mental impairment, cannot focus, has insomnia, irritability, takes medications to cope and cannot drive due to a condition that causes him to lock up in a seizure-like condition.
“He fell on the floor, and he tightened, every muscle on his body was tight. And you could see his jaws was clenched together like he was grinding his teeth,” Jolene Plaisance, Danos' wife, said.
Plaisance has resorted to shooting video of these various episodes to verify his medical problems. “Just so I could show people he is not crazy. This is really what's going on.”
Jolene and Jorey have three daughters, and they say his condition has shattered their family life, and Plaisance say she is afraid it could cut Jorey's life short.
“Will I lose my husband, and raise these kids I have by myself?” Plaisance said. “That's what's going to happen. I believe that with all my heart. I'm not saying tomorrow, but it's gonna happen sooner than it should.”
Physician and former state senator Mike Robichaux has seen 113 patients he believes are suffering health effects from the oil spill and cleanup solvents.
People from Florida, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana all had identical symptoms,” Dr. Robichaux said. “They all had identical problems. These people had no way of knowing who each other were, and there is no way of connecting it for stories.”
Robichaux says they were all extremely ill with symptoms that resembled what soldiers suffered in the 1991 Persian Gulf War.
“The biggest things that were prominent were related to neurological system, okay. The memory loss. The irritability. The fatigue. Tremendous fatigability,” Robichaux said.
“I was in a convulsion full convulsion in a ball on the floor in my boat,” Darla Rooks, a fishing captain and cleanup worker, said. “Every muscle in my body was drawn up to where I couldn’t move for 15 minutes.”
Rooks says contaminated water poured over her from her fishing nets at one point, and she was exposed to the contaminated slop from oily boom stacked on her boat.
“We had headaches, total amnesia. We call it brain fog, just total just like Alzheimer’s patients to that effect, to that point where you don’t remember where your children are. You don’t remember that you're cooking,” Rooks said.
In response to questions this report raises, BP referred us to two reports. One containing various statements BP assembled about dispersants, including this: “To combat the (2010) spill, BP used 1.8 million gallons of dispersants, primarily Corexit 9500, which was approved by the USCG and EPA for this use.”
BP also referred us to this study which questions lab studies that claim to measure how toxic dispersants can be when used in large bodies of water. The American Petroleum Institute paid for the study.
And B-P issued this statement: "Use of dispersants during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill response was coordinated with and approved by federal agencies (including the US Coast Guard and EPA.) Based on extensive monitoring conducted by BP and the federal agencies, BP is not aware of any data showing worker or public exposures to dispersants at levels that would pose a health or safety concern."
And yet BP has agreed to this medical claim settlement. A committee of plaintiff attorneys in a federal class action lawsuit reached an agreement with BP on a list of health problems for which the company could provide compensation.
But here's the problem. “None of the serious illnesses that I had seen and treated in 113 people, none, none, zero, none of the serious illnesses were included,” Dr. Robichaux said.
Dr. Robichaux says the agreement only lists less serious, more short-term complaints like cough, rash and nasal complaints. The long-term, more serious complaints that patients complained to Robichaux about like headaches, memory loss, fatigue and irritability are not listed in the agreement.
Robichaux believes the real health victims are being victimized again, but sources with the attorneys committee that reached that settlement with BP insist it will provide the most medical benefits for the most people.
They say people with more serious illnesses can file claims for compensation -- even if the medical problems develop years from now. The compensation can range from hundreds of dollars to more than $60,000.
BP issued the statement referenced in our report after we sent them emails about the allegations Jorey Danos and Darla Rooks made.
Several days after the report aired, BP called to take issue with a couple of those allegations -- primarily involving safety precautions, training and spraying of the dispersant.
BP issued the following statement:
“In accordance with government-approved dispersant plans in effect throughout the response, spraying dispersants from aircraft within 2 nautical miles of any vessel was prohibited. To provide further protection, workers were provided safety training and personal protective equipment in accordance with OSHA requirements, and real-time air monitoring and personal air monitoring were conducted. BP implemented a comprehensive air quality monitoring program, and at its peak, engaged more than 200 industry hygienists and technicians to monitor potential exposures to oil and dispersants. More than 30,000 response worker personal air monitoring samples were collected by BP, the US Coast Guard, OSHA and NIOSH. Based on the extensive monitoring conducted by BP and the federal agencies, BP is not aware of any data showing worker or public exposures to dispersants at levels that would pose a health or safety concern.”