Don’t Drink The Water Part II: Don’t Breathe The Air And Don’t Film The Beach

Riki Ott at Huffington Post:

Local fishermen hired to work on BP’s uncontrolled oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico are scared and confused. Fishermen here and in other small communities dotting the southern marshes and swamplands of Barataria Bay are getting sick from the working on the cleanup, yet BP is assuring them they don’t need respirators or other special protection from the crude oil, strong hydrocarbon vapors, or chemical dispersants being sprayed in massive quantities on the oil slick.

Fishermen have never seen the results from the air-quality monitoring patches some of them wear on their rain gear when they are out booming and skimming the giant oil slick. However, more and more fishermen are suffering from bad headaches, burning eyes, persistent coughs, sore throats, stuffy sinuses, nausea, and dizziness. They are starting to suspect that BP is not telling them the truth.

And based on air monitoring conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in a Louisiana coastal community, those workers seem to be correct. The EPA findings show that airborne levels of toxic chemicals like hydrogen sulfide, and volatile organic compounds like benzene, for instance, now far exceed safety standards for human exposure.

Juliet Eilperin at Washington Post:

The Environmental Protection Agency informed BP officials late Wednesday that the company has 24 hours to choose a less-toxic form of chemical dispersants to break up its oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, according to government sources familiar with the decision, and must apply the new form of dispersants within 72 hours of submitting the list of alternatives.

The move is significant, because it suggests federal officials are now concerned that the unprecedented use of chemical dispersants could pose a significant threat to the Gulf of Mexico’s marine life. BP has been using two forms of dispersants, Corexit 9500A and Corexit 9527A, and so far has applied 600,000 gallons on the surface and 55,000 underwater.

“Dispersants have never been used in this volume before,” said an administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the decision hasn’t been formally announced. “This is a large amount of dispersants being used, larger amounts than have ever been used, on a pipe that continues to leak oil and that BP is still trying to cap.”

The new policy applies to both surface and undersea application, according to sources, and comes as the EPA has just posted BP’s own results from monitoring the effect that underwater application of chemical dispersants has had in terms of toxicity, dissolved oxygen and effectiveness.

Emptywheel at Firedoglake

Kate Sheppard at Mother Jones:

This is a major move, reflecting growing concerns from environmentalists and marine scientists about the potential damage that these chemicals might be doing in the Gulf. Last weekend, the EPA approved the use of dispersants at the spill site—a method of dealing with an oil spill that has never been used before. BP has already used more than 600,000 gallons of Corexit, the company’s dispersant of choice, despite the fact that there are less-toxic options on the market.

The EPA is posting updates on dispersant monitoring on its website. I’m still waiting on an official statement from the EPA about this, and will update when it is available.

UPDATE: Here’s the directive from EPA to BP calling for a less-toxic dispersant. The agency also said Thursday that it would begin posting the monitoring data they are gathering on dispersants on the BP spill website.

Glynnis MacNicol at Mediaite:

Perhaps BP Oil has decided that their reputation is already so shot to shreds why even bother pretending to be nice. Last night CBS Evening News aired a segment on the oil spill and included a clip of BP contractors turning the CBS crew away from investigating part of the oil-drenched Louisiana shoreline under threat of being arrested if they proceeded. The contractor, or a Coast Guard…it’s not quite clear, told CBS that they were merely enforcing BP’s rules.

Alas, the CBS crew does not appear to have put up much of a fight. Which among other things makes me think BP better hope that Fox News doesn’t decide to send Shepard Smith to the Gulf Coast (the rest of us can just keep our fingers crossed that they do) because I imagine that would be the sort of coverage they wouldn’t so easily be able to shoo away.

Rod Dreher:

Just who does the U.S. Government work for? British Petroleum, or the American taxpayer? And where does the Coast Guard get off telling journalists that they cannot go somewhere and take pictures because a private corporation doesn’t want them to? If it was BP’s land, that would be understandable. But it wasn’t. So what’s that all about? Does the government now agree that the power of the state should be used to assist the public affairs department of British Petroleum in managing this story? This is really outrageous.

UPDATE: Scientists increasingly cheesed off at the administration for not giving them access to the well site. Emphases below mine:

The scientists point out that in the month since the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded, the government has failed to make public a single test result on water from the deep ocean. And the scientists say the administration has been too reluctant to demand an accurate analysis of how many gallons of oil are flowing into the sea from the gushing oil well.”It seems baffling that we don’t know how much oil is being spilled,” Sylvia Earle, a famed oceanographer, said Wednesday on Capitol Hill. “It seems baffling that we don’t know where the oil is in the water column.”

More:

The big scientific question now is what is happening in deeper water. While it is clear that water samples have been taken, the results have not been made public.Lisa P. Jackson, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, told Congress on Wednesday that she was pressing for the release of additional test results, including some samples taken by boats under contract to BP.

OK, look: you are the administration of the EPA. You don’t have the authority to make these test results public? Who is sitting on this information, and why? Outrageous. As someone said on a radio report I heard yesterday, this may be BP’s well, but it’s the public’s ocean.

Naked Capitalism:

It seems utterly implausible that BP does not have a well informed idea as to how much oil is coming out of its well. And the evidence is compelling that the 5.000 barrel per day figure BP keeps presenting is an utter canard, considerably lower than the real outflow. But BP refuses to put measurement equipment near the leak, arguing it might interfere with remediation efforts. Huh? How can you possibly ascertain whether what you plan to do to plug the hole (which is what these first round efforts have all consisted of) has a snowball’s chance of hell in working if you don’t have a good idea of the volumes coming out of the leak?

In other words, the only reason for BP NOT to want to have this information is that:

1. Its remediation efforts to date have some reasonable odds of success only if the outflow is not that much above its 5000 barrel a day estimate

2. Higher outflows and pretty much zilch odds of success of current public-placating dorking around would lead to much greater pressure to Do Something Now.

3. The effective Do Something Now options (like the radical one of using a nuclear weapon to collapse the ocean floor into the leak) would likely also result in making it difficult for BP to ever get oil from that site

4. The BP strategy is thus very likely all about trying to maximize oil extraction by minimizing the appearance of damage and buying time while it drills a relief well

Now let us get to part 2: why is Team Obama enabling this nonsense? I come up with two possibilities:

1. Team Obama believes the BP BS

2. Obama does not want to look impotent. Revealing that the leak is really bad and not having a quick solution is an Obama PR disaster. Obama has to work through BP unless he can implement an action plan using only government resources or by working with another oil company with deep ocean expertise. Given the lead times for government contracting, this would take quite a while.

If the leak is as serious as I fear, this is environmental equivalent of the Iran hostage crisis. Team Obama recognizes this, and therefore wants to create the impression as long as possible that everything that could possibly be done is being done. Note that the Administration is behaving with BP exactly as it did vis as vis the banksters in early 2009: believing that the problem is too complex and scary for them to assert control, casting its lot in with the people who caused the problem in the first place (while calling them bad names often enough to create plausible deniability). And enabling BP’s coverup of how bad the leak means, as Obama did with the financial services industry, of having to support, or at least not undermine too much, its PR efforts.

Now of course, as information keeps surfacing (no pun intended) that the leak is probably much worse than the BP party line. Reports of underwater oil plumes are the most dramatic example. Note that NOAA pooh poohed them two days ago. Per the New York Times today, the government was “surprised” even though this sort of damage had been anticipated in the scientific literature back in 2003, and it now appears to be scrambling to get a better understanding of the plumes.

As official information continues to be slow to be released and maddeningly incomplete, partially founded or unfounded speculation runs rampant on the Internet. For instance, one reader provided a guest post with an detailed and thoughtful analysis of how much oil might be coming from the leak, but it was based on an inaccurate yet widely reported factoid, that the pipe was five feet wide (as our resident expert Glenn Stehle said, “There is no pipe ‘5 feet in diamater’ used in well design—-that is nonsensical.”). Today, we have a report of a “blob” (shades of horror movies!). The problem is that the story contains so much sensationalism and exaggeration that it undermines its credibility, particularly when real experts like Earle stress how little is known about the real state of affairs at the wellmouth. We can only hope that the powers that be come to recognize that footdragging and obfuscation serve no one other besides BP.

WDSU:

More and more stories about sick fishermen are beginning to surface after the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.The fishermen are working out in the Gulf — many of them all day, every day — to clean up the spill. They said they blame their ailments on the chemicals that BP is using.One fisherman said he felt like he was going to die over the weekend.”I’ve been coughing up stuff,” Gary Burris said. “Your lungs fill up.”Burris, a longtime fisherman who has worked across the Gulf Coast, said he woke up Sunday night feeling drugged and disoriented.”It was like sniffing gasoline or something, and my ears are still popping,” Burris said. “I’m coughing up stuff. I feel real weak, tingling feelings.”Marine toxicologist Riki Ott said the chemicals used by BP can wreak havoc on a person’s body and even lead to death.”The volatile, organic carbons, they act like a narcotic on the brain,” Ott said. “At high concentrations, what we learned in Exxon Valdez from carcasses of harbor seals and sea otters, it actually fried the brain, (and there were) brain lesions.”Rep. Charlie Melancon said he wants something done. He sent a letter to President Barack Obama’s administration calling for temporary health care clinics to be set up in the area.”There can be immediate attention to any people who feel they have adverse problems caused by the inhalation or exposure to the oil,” Melancon said.

UPDATE: Scarecrow at Firedoglake

Kate Sheppard at Mother Jones

Maryann Tobin at The Examiner

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1 Comment

Filed under Energy, Environment, Political Figures

One response to “Don’t Drink The Water Part II: Don’t Breathe The Air And Don’t Film The Beach

  1. Pingback: What We’ve Built Today « Around The Sphere

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