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Illness Among Exxon Valdez Workers Could Foreshadow Tragedy for BP Oil Spill Cleanup Crews

Jul 8, 2010 | Parker Waichman LLP

People working to cleanup the BP oil spill could very well face the prospect of long-term health problems. According to a report on CNN last night, cleanup workers from the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill are still suffering health problems, 21 years later.

A lawyer who represented on such Exxon Valdez worker told CNN that One examination of health records of 11,000 Exxon Valdez cleanup workers found that 6,722 of them had gotten sick. The government and the company called those illnesses the “Exxon crud,” a flu or cold that Exxon was not required to report to federal health officials, CNN said.

One former Exxon Valdez cleanup worker interviewed by CNN said he was “slowly poisoned” by the toxins he was exposed to. Today, he continues to suffer from rashes, respiratory problems, and is going blind.

Of note, one of the dispersants used to break up the Exxon Valdez disaster included a variant of Corexit. Corexit is the dispersant BP has used during this disaster in unprecedented amounts. The federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)has identified the 2-butoxyethanol in Corexit to be a causal agent in the health problems experienced by cleanup workers after the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill. These ailments included respiratory, nervous system, liver, kidney and blood disorders.

Unfortunately, neither Exxon nor the government has conducted any long-term studies on the health problems experienced by those workers. However, an environmental activist who did study the Exxon Valdez disaster told CNN that cleanup workers in the Gulf are showing “the exact identical symptoms down here that we had 21 years ago.”

Exxon had asked the court to keep workers’ medical records under seal to protect their privacy, CNN said. But now, in the wake of the BP oil spill, some in Congress want to know more about the health consequences that followed the Exxon Valdez disaster. Earlier this month, House Energy and Commerce Committee asked ExxonMobil to turn over all records related to the health of workers who took part in the Alaskan cleanup. The company says it is reviewing the request.

So far the state of Louisiana has received 162 complaints of oil spill-related illnesses. Of those, 128 involve oil spill workers, and 21 have so far resulted in hospitalizations. Reported symptoms include dizziness, nausea and breathing issues. A report issued by the state in June said some of the workers reporting illnesses appear to have been exposed to fumes from dispersants that were deployed in the Gulf.

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