One Year Later, BP Oil Spill Continues to Take a Toll

A year after the BP oil spill turned the lives of many Gulf Coast residents upside down, the region has yet to recover from the unprecedented disaster. Its growing list of victims include <"">BP oil spill cleanup workers who are increasingly reporting “mystery” ailments that may be the result of toxins encountered during recovery effort. Thousands of other residents and business in the affected Gulf Coast states are still fighting to get their BP oil spill claims paid. And a year later, with the environmental impacts of the BP oil spill catastrophe still being assessed, the U.S. Congress has failed to pass even one law aimed at avoiding a repeat of what most agree was an entirely preventable disaster.

The BP oil spill began on April 20, 2010 with an explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon oil rig that killed 11 men. Attempts to staunch the gusher failed, until a cap was successfully deployed over the undersea well on July 15. By that time, roughly 4.4 million barrels of oil had spilled into the Gulf of Mexico. The BP oil spill, which now ranks as the largest offshore oil disaster in U.S. history, paralyzed important segments of the Gulf Coast’s economy, including seafood and tourism.

During the BP oil spill cleanup, more than a million gallons of oil dispersants were used with unknown health consequences, something that hadn’t occurred in previous oil spills. Now, many fishermen who worked in offshore oil spill cleanup efforts last spring and summer say exposure to those dispersants, and to the oil itself, has ruined their health. According to a report aired by ABC News last night, the symptoms they are reporting – respiratory problems, headaches, memory loss, chest pain, and frequent bouts of pneumonia – are consistent with prolonged exposure to chemicals in oil.

There are over 200 chemicals in oil, many of which are toxic, including the carcinogen benzene. BP hired more than 10,000 fishermen as part of the Vessels of Opportunity Program to assist in off-shore cleanup efforts. For weeks, they spent hours a day riding through, skimming and burning oil, and laying down boom.

The ABC investigation found that many of these workers were told by BP and the federal government that they did not need to use respirators while they were working around the oil and dispersants. Even worse, no government agency bothered to test the air the workers were breathing out at sea until a month after the spill.

“I think there’s a fairly high likelihood that we’ll see some increase in some cancers in some of the populations with exposure to the chemicals, ” Dr. Michael Harbut, an oncologist who has worked with Gulf Coast patients, and the Director of the Environmental Cancer Program at the Karmanos Cancer Institute, told ABC News.

Meanwhile, other victims of the BP oil spill are still trying to get their <"">economic loss and property damage claims paid by the Gulf Coast Claims Facility, the $20 billion compensation fund set up by BP after the spill. Some businesses – like oyster fisherman – have not seen any income since the spill. Yet they say they are getting the run-around on claims.

According to a MarketWatch report, Attorney Kenneth Feinberg, who is overseeing the claims processing effort, says that more than 130,000 claimants have received compensation so far. The Claims Facility has gone through about 70 percent of the claims it’s received, but Feinberg acknowledged that “There are situations where there’s been inconsistent treatment of claims or delays.”

In a statement to MarketWatch, U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, a Louisiana Democrat, criticized the process.

“The problem is that more than 9 out of 10 payments have been ‘quick pays.’ Payments have been much slower in coming for many of those hardest hit by the spill, including fishermen and business owners, whose claims are much more complex.”

She called on the Claims Facility to not only speed up the process, but to improve its communication and transparency in the handling of claims.

Finally, despite what seemed to be a constant stream of congressional hearings in the wake of the BP oil spill, the U.S. Congress has not passed one single law that would improve the safety and oversight of offshore drilling. This, despite the fact that more than 150 bills with those goals in mind were introduced last year. Contrast that to what occurred following the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill – within 18 months, the Oil Pollution Control Act had been made law.

Congressional staffers from both parties recently told the Huffington Post that legislative inaction this time around is the result of anti-regulatory zeal on the part of conservative lawmakers and the influence of the oil industry.

“The lobbying is relentless and continuous on the Hill,” John Amos, a former oil industry geologist who heads the SkyTruth environmental group, told the Huffington Post. “And the public sector groups are no match for the well-oiled machine that the American Petroleum Institute is.”

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