Chemical Linked to Exxon Valdez Illnesses Turning Up in BP Oil Spill Workers

A chemical linked to illnesses among Exxon Valdez oil spill cleanup workers has now been detected at high levels in BP oil spill responders. According to The New York Times, the chemical, 2-butoxyethanol, is an ingredient in the Corexit 9527 dispersant that BP phased out after spraying it in the Gulf during the early days of the spill.

The finding not only means that there are still serious concerns about air quality in the Gulf, but that the situation could actually be deteriorating.

In its latest summary of chemical testing, posted to its website this week, BP said 2-butoxyethanol was detected at levels up to 10 parts per million (ppm) in more than 20 percent of offshore responders and 15 percent of those near shore. That’s below the limit set by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), but above a 5 ppm limit set by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), the Times said. The NIOSH standard is considered safer, but is not enforceable by law, according to the Times.

One interesting fact the Times noted was that for most chemicals it tested, BP references the NIOSH limits. This is not the case for 2-butoxyethanol. One expert interviewed by the Times accused BP of “playing with these numbers.”

The new summary, which includes data through June 29, is concerning, especially since BP said it stopped using Corexit 9527 early in the spill. A toxicology professor told the Times that considering the levels of 2-butoxyethanol among workers, it is doubtful that they could be attributable only to BP’s early use of Corexit 9527.

Meanwhile, it seems toxic chemicals aren’t the only problems facing oil spill workers. According to OSHA, some of the training they are receiving might not be adequate.

Employees hired to be supervisors in the cleanup are required to receive extensive training. A rigorous 40-hour program is required under OSHA’s Hazardous Waste Operation and Emergency Response Standard (HAZWOPER)

According to a news release issued by the agency yesterday, OSHA received reports that some are offering HAZWOPER training in significantly less than 40 hours, showing video presentations and offering only limited instruction. In order to meet the certifications of this 40-hour training, a combination of classroom and hands-on, applicable experience is required. This includes instruction on the makeup and risks associated with the hazardous materials involved, and experience with the equipment needed for the work, safety gear and local environment. While online instruction can be a part HAZWOPER training, OSHA said computer-based training alone does not meet the full course requirements.

Any worker who feels the training they received from a private company or organization does not meet the HAZWOPER training requirements should contact the closest OSHA area office to file a complaint or call 800-321-OSHA (6742) for more information.

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