Tomgram: Rosner and Markowitz, Your Body is a Corporate Test Tube!
Just over three years ago, an explosion on the Deep-water Horizon oil rig leased by BP, killed 11 people, injured 17, and according to government estimates, polluted the Gulf of Mexico with 210 million gallons of Louisiana sweet crude. It turns out, however, that the casualty toll did not end with those 28 workers. The real number may reach into the thousands. Last year, BP pled guilty to 14 felonies stemming from the disaster, including misleading Congress about the amount of oil that gushed into the gulf. But that was not the only way BP attempted to cover up the extent of the spill. The main method was using 1.84 million gallons of a substance known as Corexit, that acts to attach itself to leaked oil, break it into droplets, and disperse them into the vast reaches of the gulf, thereby keeping the oil from reaching Gulf Coast shorelines. Writing for Newsweek and with the support of the Nation Institute's Investigative Fund, Mark Heertsgaard recently laid bare how Corexit was utilized, and the dire effects it apparently had on the men and women, who worked to "clean" the gulf in the wake of BP's historically unprecedented spill. People like Jamie Griffin. A BP representative reportedly assured Griffin, that the smelly sludge cleanup workers were tracking into the "floating hotel" where she was a cook, would be as safe as Dawn dish-washing liquid, so she scrubbed and scrubbed to clean it up. "Within days," Hertsgaard writes, "the 32 year old single mother was coughing up blood, and suffering constant headaches." She soon "fell ill with a cluster of excruciating bizarre, grotesque ailments, unstoppable muscle spasms were twisting her hands into immovable claws. She began losing her short term memory, The right side, but only the right side, of her body started acting crazy. It felt like the nerves were coming out of her skin. It was so painful. "My right leg swelled, my ankle would get as wide as my calf, and my skin got incredibly itchy." Hundreds, perhaps thousands of other workers were exposed to the same chemicals, including those who were coated in a mist of Corexit, since almost 60% of it was sprayed out of airplanes. Hertsgaard reveals that not only "did BP fail to inform workers of the potential hazards of Corexit, and to provide them with safety training and protective gear, according to interviews with dozens of cleanup workers, the company also allegedly threatened to fire workers, who complained about the lack of respirators and protective clothing. So, add Corexit to the list of toxic substances, brought to us by industries that promised better, and include BP in a long catalog of companies which, over the last century, have tried to hush up the truth about the types of chemical assaults, for which the Department of Homeland Security issues no fact sheets. It is a story as old as industrial America, and one that public health historians David Rosner and Jerry Markowitz know all too well. For years, they have earned the ire of the lead and petrochemical industries for historical exposes, that demonstrate how American companies regularly sacrificed workers and children's lives for the sake of big profits.