Oil is toxic on its own and dispersants are also hazardous. More than 100,000 people were involved in the BP Deepwater Horizon response and many were exposed to crude oil or chemical dispersants. Workers reported a range of health problems, including tightness of the chest and burning in the nose, eyes and lungs that in some cases continued for years after exposure. Workers showed persistent or worsening health problems even seven years after the Deepwater Horizon disaster, including blood disorders and heart problems.
Photo Credit: Department of Energy
Danger exists at each phase. Some workers — and residents of coastal communities — exposed to waste materials may not have been aware of the dangers oil production poses. Many waste materials from oil exploration and production are exempt from the federal safeguards meant to protect people and the environment from exposure. This exemption is the apparent result the of oil and gas industry’s lobbying. For example, benzene is considered a human carcinogen by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). But, if benzene waste is generated in the production or exploration of oil, it is treated as nonhazardous, even though it is known to cause cancer.
“They failed our people. ... At one point, I remember thinking, ‘Wow, this could kill off the whole generation of Native Americans living off the coast of Louisiana.’” - Clarice Friloux, former outreach coordinator, United Houma Nation
Overall, BP’s response to the disaster was slow, inadequate and incomplete. Before it could begin drilling, BP submitted a spill-response plan. A review of this plan should have revealed that in no way was BP prepared to manage a blowout. BP’s response plan contained embarrassing mistakes, including a reference to seals and walruses — animals not found in the Gulf of Mexico, indicating that at least portions of the plan had been copied and pasted from documents related to drilling in the Arctic. The only plan to stop an oil spill at its source was an additional dangerous drilling process that takes months to complete, acknowledging in advance that an actual spill could take months to contain