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Deep Water Horizon

The National Black Climate Summit

Chemicals used in Deepwater Horizon spill are harmful to people, study proves; finally

By Charles Digges - Bellona, September 25, 2017

Last week, the National Institutes of Health in the United States released a report that confirmed people living along the Gulf of Mexico who were very ill, but who for seven years have been told to keep quiet up about it, weren’t crazy after all.

Thousands of them had broken out in rashes. They had been coughing up blood, wheezing, experiencing migraines, and were tormented by burning eyes and memory loss. Others were surprised by heart aliments, kidney problems, liver damage, blood in their urine and discharge from their ears. Still others muddled through cognitive decline and anxiety attacks. Many went on to die.

Yet barely anyone in a position of authority was willing to believe they were sick at all. Often, even their own doctors told them that it was all in their heads.

What these people had in common was that they had been cleanup workers on the BP’s Macondo well disaster, which for 87 days in 2010 poured 4.9 million barrels oil into the Gulf of Mexico after the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded that April 20 off the coast of Louisiana. It was the worst oil spill in US history.

Some 47,000 people responded to the blow out. Fishermen rushed their boats into the fray to coral the oil at sea. Others worked to siphon it off beaches in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. In other cases they burned it off the surface of the ocean in flames visible from space.

All of these workers toiled under a haze of chemicals dumped from the skies to bombard the ballooning slick and sink it to the bottom of the Gulf. In most cases, they didn’t have protective gear – BP and its contractors told them they didn’t need it.

The US Coast Guard and the Environmental Protection Agency backed that up – they, too, had been assured by BP and Corexit’s manufacturer, Nalco Environmental Solutions, that it was safe.

Last week, the National Institutes of Health finally told them, after a seven-year wait, that it wasn’t.

EcoUnionist News #49

Compiled by x344543 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, May 26, 2015 (Image: Judi Bari stands defiant outside of the Oakland Federal Building, ca: 1996).

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Special Note: Due to the recent (voluntarily, fortunately) location of this site's main administrator, some of these stories are a little delayed. We apologize for any delay in timely reporting. Bear with us; we're all working class volunteers. ;-)

The following news items feature issues, discussions, campaigns, or information potentially relevant to green unionists:

Lead Stories:

An Injury to One is an Injury to All:

Gulf South Rising:

Carbon Bubble:

Just Transition:

1267-Watch:

Other News:

For more green news, please visit our news feeds section on ecology.iww.org; Twitter #IWWEUC

EcoUnionist News #48

Compiled by x344543 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, April 20, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

The following news items feature issues, discussions, campaigns, or information potentially relevant to green unionists:

Lead Stories:

May Day:

An Injury to One is an Injury to All:

Carbon Bubble:

Just Transition:

1267-Watch:

Bread and Roses:

Other News:

For more green news, please visit our news feeds section on ecology.iww.org; Twitter #IWWEUC

EcoUnionist News #45

Compiled by x344543 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, April 1, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

The following news items feature issues, discussions, campaigns, or information potentially relevant to green unionists:

Lead Stories:

Bread and Roses:

USW Refinery Strike:

Carbon Bubble:

Just Transition:

1267-Watch:

Health and Safety:

Other News:

For more green news, please visit our news feeds section on ecology.iww.org; Twitter #IWWEUC

Work Is Killing Workers: Americans Are Working So Hard It’s Actually Killing People; The jobless recovery means massive speedups for many workers you depend on

By Esther Kaplan - The Nation, November 2, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Jessica Wheeler works the night shift as an oncology nurse at Wilkes-Barre General Hospital in northeastern Pennsylvania—but her patients are usually wide awake. “When they have a new cancer diagnosis or they’re going to have a biopsy in the morning, they don’t sleep,” says the 25-year-old Wheeler (which is not her real name). “They’re scared.” Other patients are in their final hours of life, surrounded by grieving family. What she wants is to be there to comfort them, to talk them through those difficult hours, to hold their hands and attend to their pain. But, mostly, she can’t.

According to hospital policy, night nurses on her floor should care for no more than six and a half patients, but they typically have ten. When things go bad with one or two, the floor quickly tips into chaos.

Wheeler recalls one night when she had a patient who couldn’t breathe and several others under her care. “I called the supervisor to ask for anybody—a nursing assistant, anybody! And I didn’t get it, and my patient ended up coding.” Another night, Wheeler had a post-op patient who required constant attention; the patient was confused and sick, and she soon escaped her restraints and pulled out her drains, spraying fecal matter all over the wall. Early the next morning, her heartbeat became irregular just as another patient was dying. “Those nights are scary,” Wheeler says. “I think I’ve seen everybody on our floor cry.”

Another young nurse describes a shift when she had only been on the job a few months and was saddled with ten patients, including one whose incision was leaking badly, requiring her to administer blood all night long. “I was drowning,” the nurse says. She called for help multiple times, but it never came. At the 7 am shift change, she confused two patients’ blood-sugar numbers and medicated the wrong one.

Wilkes-Barre was not always this out of control. For decades, it was a nonprofit community hospital serving the onetime coal town. It was bought in 2009 by what is now the nation’s largest for-profit healthcare chain, Tennessee-based Community Health Systems, which operates 207 hospitals in twenty-nine states. The Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals (PASNAP), the nurses’ union, counts fifty-one fewer nurses since the CHS acquisition, a reduction of more than 10 percent—and that’s on top of the elimination of dozens of nursing aides and secretaries. The nurses are not only juggling more patients, says Fran Prusinski, a critical-care nurse who’s been at the hospital for thirty years, but “they have to change the linens, empty the garbage and answer the phones.”

Some of the job’s intensity is due to broad national trends in healthcare. The rise of HMOs and cost-cutting in the 1990s mean patients who are stable and ambulatory—some nurses call them “walkie-talkies”—are now quickly released, so those left in the hospital tend to be sicker and harder to care for. “The patients we’re taking care of on a general medical floor now were the patients twenty years ago we took care of in an ICU [intensive-care unit] with a 2-to-1 patient-to-nurse ratio,” says Elaine Weale, an ER nurse who’s been at the hospital for thirty-three years. “Now that nurse may have five patients, six patients, seven patients.” And as technology has advanced, gravely ill patients who once would have died are now being kept alive, requiring constant care.

But the crush of work these nurses face also exemplifies a hidden side of the recent economic recovery: in industry after industry, speedups are turning work into a hazard, with increasing numbers of injuries and dangerous levels of stress. While 18.6 million people remain underemployed, millions of others are working more hours, and more intensely, than ever. This is especially true in certain industries, from oil refineries to retail to publishing, where federal data shows labor productivity has risen at double or more the national rate. A 2010 survey of people registered with Monster.com found that 53 percent of respondents had taken on additional duties since the start of the recession because co-workers had been laid off—almost all of them without any additional compensation. A 2010 report from the Center for American Progress and the Hastings Center for WorkLife Law found that overwork was a particular problem among professionals: 14 percent of women and 38 percent of men were working more than fifty hours a week. But it has become common in industrial occupations as well. “When time and a half for overtime was established by federal law, that was really a job-creation measure, so it would cost less to hire a new worker,” says Mike Wright, the United Steelworkers’ director of health and safety. “But starting in the late 1970s, the cost of benefits exceeded that extra pay cost, and it became cheaper to work your existing workers harder.”

* * *

American workers do work longer hours than we did a generation ago, according to some analyses, and hundreds more per year than our counterparts in France or Germany—the equivalent of six to eight extra weeks a year. We top the Eurozone nations in productivity by 18 percentage points. “Every month the BLS [Bureau of Labor Statistics] releases its worker-productivity numbers, which measure output per labor hour worked,” says Celeste Monforton, a former Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) staffer. Montforton, now at the George Washington University School of Public Health, points out that the numbers “go up every month. And that’s because businesses are not hiring new workers; they’re just expecting the old workers to work more, and spitting them out after they get injured.” Some of these gains come from the adoption of new technologies, but others just come from pushing workers harder.

A 2013 survey of its own union reps by the United Steelworkers, which represents such blue-collar industries as oil and steel, found that production pressures, the increased pace of work and increased workloads topped workplace health concerns—outstripping more obvious risks such as poorly maintained equipment. When the reps were asked to give an example of a health or safety problem that had gotten worse over the past year, understaffing led the list. The jobless recovery, in other words, is sustained in part by aggressively overworking those with jobs.

Take the meatpacking industry. By age 39, Juan Martinez, who worked at a Cargill beef processing plant near Omaha, had hands so disfigured from making repetitive cuts that he could no longer work; he is now surviving on disability. He still experiences pain so intense it feels like nails are being hammered into his fingers. His crew had to slice up 4,600 twenty- to thirty-pound pieces per shift. In the four years he was at the plant, from 2003 to 2006, the number of people at his station dropped from eight to six or seven, while the parts kept coming. Since they couldn’t keep up with the line when someone took a bathroom break, supervisors responded by simply denying break requests. “There are people who would pee in their pants,” he told me, “because they didn’t give them permission to go.”

Another meatpacking worker, whom I’ll call Porfirio, worked on the kill line at XL Four Star Beef (now JBS) in Omaha for twenty-seven years. When he started, he says, they killed 1,000 cattle in a ten-hour shift; now they kill 1,100 in eight and a half hours. At night, when he goes to bed, his hands hurt so much that he has trouble falling asleep; when he wakes up in the morning, he can’t move them at all. Everyone talked about popping enormous doses of Tylenol; some talked about pressure so intense it left them depressed. “The Speed Kills You,” a 2009 report from the nonprofit organization Nebraska Appleseed, was based on a survey of 455 meatpacking workers; it cataloged a range of injuries, from cuts, falls and fractures to musculoskeletal and repetitive-strain injuries, attributed mainly to “uninterrupted line speed.” Three-quarters of respondents said line speed had increased in their plant over the past year.

Line speeds in meatpacking and poultry are federally regulated for food safety only, not worker safety. Last year, the USDA proposed to raise the cap on poultry line speeds from 140 to an almost unimaginable 175 birds a minute, even though hand and wrist injuries were already rampant in the industry. A government study of one poultry plant in March of this year found that 41 percent of the workers already exceed safe limits for hand activity, and 42 percent showed evidence of carpal tunnel syndrome.

What Did the 2010 Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling Moratorium Mean for the Workforce?

By Joseph E. Aldy - Common Resources, August 22, 2014

On April 20, 2010, the Transocean Deepwater Horizon suffered a catastrophic blowout while drilling in a BP lease in the Gulf of Mexico’s Macondo Prospect. This accident resulted in the largest oil spill in US history and an unprecedented spill response effort. Due to the ongoing spill and concerns about the safety of offshore oil drilling, the US Department of the Interior suspended offshore deep water oil and gas drilling operations on May 27, 2010, in what became known as the offshore drilling moratorium. The media portrayed the impacts of these events on local employment, with images of closed fisheries, idle rigs, as well as boats skimming oil and workers cleaning oiled beaches.

In a new RFF discussion paper, “The Labor Market Impacts of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling Moratorium,” I estimate and examine the net impact of the oil spill, the drilling moratorium, and spill response on employment and wages in the Gulf Coast. The spill and moratorium represented unexpected events in the region, and the resulting economic impacts varied within and among the Gulf states. Coastal counties and parishes were expected to bear the vast majority of the burden of these two events, while inland areas were expected to be largely unaffected. The moratorium was expected to affect Louisiana—with significant support of the offshore drilling industry—but not, for example, Florida, which had no active drilling off of its coastline. Beyond the economic impacts, the timing and magnitude of the spill response varied across the states over the course of the spill as well.

Despite predictions of major job losses in Louisiana resulting from these events, I find that the most oil-intensive parishes in Louisiana experienced a net increase in employment and wages. In contrast, Gulf Coast Florida counties south of the Panhandle experienced a decline in employment. Analysis of the number of business establishments, worker migration, accommodations industry employment and wages, sales tax data, and commercial air arrivals likewise show positive economic activity impacts in the oil-intensive coastal parishes of Louisiana and reduced economic activity along the non-Panhandle Florida Gulf Coast. The billions of dollars of spill response and clean-up mobilized over the course of the spring and summer of 2010 positively impacted economic activity, similar to the effect of fiscal stimulus. The geographic variation in labor market impacts reflects the focus of spill response efforts in Louisiana and the absence of oil and thus spill response along the Gulf coast of Florida south of the Panhandle.

Read the report (PDF).

Four Years After the BP Disaster, Vietnamese Oyster Fishermen and Shrimpers Struggle to Survive

By Cherri Foytlin - The Life Support Project, October 6, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Undeterred by the blazing sun and high humidity of a mid-August afternoon in Biloxi, Mississippi, Tuat Nguyen and Bien Do moved nimbly around their shrimp boat, making last-minute preparations to leave for Lake Borgne, where the Louisiana shrimp season would open in a few days. Watching them work, moving with ease from one end of the boat to the other, climbing up and down, it was hard to believe both are in their seventies and each has been making a living on the water for more than six decades.

While Bien made final preparations to depart– they’d already had mechanical problems earlier that day – Tuat, who speaks only a little English, invited community leader and interpreter Thao Vu and myself to sit down for a few minutes at the small table in the boat’s tidy galley.

Tuat says her father taught her how to shrimp when she was only 8 or 9 years old. The invention of GPS and modern technology were still decades away, so at night the moon and the stars were their guide. She remembers following the sun during the day, following it as it moved from east to west. Everything was done by hand. Someone would blow a horn to guide them into the dock after dark.

She says her husband, Bien, can’t remember a time he didn’t work on a boat. He’s a hardworking oyster fisherman and a shrimper, livelihoods that go back generations.

After leaving Vietnam, they settled in Biloxi, drawn by the warm Gulf waters where they could make a living dredging for oysters and shrimping. The Gulf’s abundance and their own hard work allowed them to be productive, independent and part of a thriving community.

But that was before BP.

Ain't NOTHING's Changed!


This images is not an official image of the IWW or the IWW EUC.

Dispersant illness robbing a once strong local generation of work, economic security

By Charles Digges - Bellona, September 4, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

NEW ORLEANS/BAYOU LABATRA, Alabama – Lamont Moore’s short dreadlocks and mammoth fists make a shot glass of his coffee mug in the well of his knot-knuckled hand as he leans back to ponder a question, shying vampirically from the light bellowing into the Waffle House on Alabama State Road 39.

Adjusting his Terminator shades with his other meaty mitt, he radiates the impression of a retired prizefighter tired of talking to the media.

But Moore, 34, is fatigued for other reasons. He can’t climb a flight of stairs without having to sit down and catch his wind. He pinches the bridge of his nose against the swirling hurricane of a debilitating migraine. He’s chosen not to join the rest of us in breakfast because of stomach pain. And he can’t read the menu anyway – the sunlight is too much for his eyes.

lamar

Lamar Moore, who cleaned beaches in Alabama during the Deepwater Horizon spill. (Charles Digges/Bellona)

Even the sunglasses that he fashioned out of welder’s goggles don’t help. Most of the time, he says, he bumbling around in a whiteout.

He finally breaks the silence, rubbing a cyst the size of cherry on his jaw that’s been there since he worked the beaches of Dauphin Island, Alabama to help cleanup the oil of the Deepwater Horizon spill. “I’m really sorry, but what did you ask?”

The memory loss is part of the overall symptomology of Corexit poisoning, or “BP syndrome,” as it’s sometimes referred to by Dr. Michael Robichaux, one of the few Gulf area physicians to treat and document the symptoms of poisoning by crude and Corexit, the oil dispersant that BP dumped 1.84 million gallons of to hide the effects of its 4.9 million barrel blowout in the Gulf of Mexico’s Macondo well.

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