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"This scares everybody, the fact that we can't stop this well,"

This scares everybody, the fact that we can't stop this well," - BP Chief Operating Officer Doug Suttles, May 29, 2010: More oil-spill responders hospitalized and exposure information gaps persist


by Elizabeth Grossman

As of Saturday afternoon, May 29th, ten oil spill clean-up workers had been admitted to West Jefferson Medical Center (WJMC) in Marrero, Louisiana. All but two have been hospitalized suffering from chest pains, dizziness, headaches, and nausea. One crewmember admitted on the 29th had fallen and hit his head on a stair after wave mixed with oil had washed onto a deck, hospital spokesperson Taslin Alonzo told me about three hours after two workers were admitted Saturday. The other, who was working on what Alonzo called "an oil rig," was suffering from hypertension. All crewmembers hospitalized have long experience working on the water, said Alonzo.

The two crewmembers hospitalized on May 28th had been working on the water about an hour south of Venice, Louisiana near where oil burns have been conducted, said Alonzo. The workers complained of breathing fumes from oil burning the day before, she told me. They also believed they'd been sprayed with chemical dispersant.

Emergency room doctors thought these symptoms could result from dehydration, said Alonzo. "They've been out working 20 to 30 days," in a row, she said. But the thought was, said Alonzo, that symptoms were caused by some kind of chemical irritant. When asked if the hospital tested incoming cases like these for evidence of chemical exposure, Alonzo told me that it doesn't. "We just treat the symptoms," she said.

As of Sunday morning May 30th, the Deepwater Horizon Incident Joint Information Center (JIC) has issued no notice of the response workers hospitalized on the 29th. But the JIC announced via press release on the evening of the 28th that two crewmen from two controlled burn fleet vessels were being medevaced after experiencing chest pains.

"At the time of the medical emergencies, there were no controlled burning of oil being conducted. The two vessels were actively searching for oil concentrations for future burns....Aerial dispersants have been used in the area of the burn fleet, but as per safety restrictions, no dispersants are deployed within two miles of any vessel or platform," says the JIC press release.

Yet at a May 28th press briefing, BP COO Doug Sutttles announced that thirteen controlled burns had taken place that day. And according to the JIC, between May 26 and 29, total dispersant use increased from more than 840,000 to 910,000 gallons - over 30,000 of which were applied on the surface.

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