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4 years after spill, questions on long-term health

CHALMETTE, La. (AP) -- When a BP oil well began gushing crude into the Gulf of Mexico four years ago, fisherman George Barisich used his boat to help clean up the millions of gallons that spewed in what would become the worst offshore spill in U.S. history.

Like so many Gulf Coast residents who pitched in after the April 20, 2010, explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig, Barisich was motivated by a desire to help and a need to make money - the oil had destroyed his livelihood.

Today he regrets that decision, and worries his life has been permanently altered. Barisich, 58, says respiratory problems he developed during the cleanup turned into pneumonia and that his health has never been the same.

"After that, I found out that I couldn't run. I couldn't exert past a walk," he said. His doctor declined to comment.

Barisich is among thousands considering claims under a medical settlement BP reached with cleanup workers and coastal residents. The settlement, which could benefit an estimated 200,000 people, received final approval in February from a federal court. It establishes set amounts of money - up to $60,700 in some cases - to cover costs of various ailments for those who can document that they worked the spill and developed related illnesses, such as respiratory problems and skin conditions.

It also provides for regular physical examinations every three years for up to 21 years, and it reserves a worker's right to sue BP over conditions that develop down the road, if the worker believes he or she can prove a connection to the spill.

Some 33,000 people, including Barisich, are participating in a massive federal study that aims to determine any short or possible long-term health effects related to the spill.


"We know from ... research that's been done on other oil spills, that people one to two years after ... had respiratory symptoms and changes in their lung function, and then after a couple of years people start to return to normal," said Dr. Dale Sandler, who heads the study overseen by the National Institutes of Environmental Health Sciences, an arm of the National Institutes of Health.

"What nobody's ever done is ask the question: Well, after five years or 10 years are people more likely to develop heart disease, or are they more likely to get cancer? And I'm sure that's what people who experienced this oil spill are worried about."

Sandler planned to discuss some early findings Friday during a midday news conference.

The study is funded by NIH, which received a $10 million award from London-based BP, part of $500 million the oil giant has committed to spend over 10 years for environmental and health research.

Researchers compiled a list of 100,000 candidates, drawn from sources including rosters of mandatory safety classes that cleanup crews attended and from records of people who were issued badges permitting access to oiled areas.

They reached about 33,000 for interviews; and 11,000 of them agreed to physical examinations that include blood and blood pressure tests and measurements of lung function. Water and air samples taken during the spill also will be used to attempt to pinpoint how much exposure workers may have had to toxic substances.

Sandler emphasized that making any direct correlation between health concerns and the spill could prove challenging because many of the workers held other jobs that put them in contact with oil. Some worked with boat engines, did regular hazard mediation work or worked at chemical plants. Many also are smokers.

The researchers will try to account for smoking or other factors that could ruin health, and narrow in on problems tied to spill exposure. They plan to monitor the health of study participants for at least 10 to 15 years.

Aside from physical health, Sandler also is interested in knowing whether chemical exposure, in addition to the stress of working the spill, might have contributed to any mental health problems.

"We're not in a position to say that yet," she said.

Fisherman and former cleanup worker Bert Ducote says he knows the physical and emotional pain. Ducote said dozens of boils have turned up on his neck, back and stomach since the spill - and he theorizes, though shared no medical records that could prove, that his problems stem from the cleanup.

Ducote said he spent months handling the boom used to corral oil. Even with protective gear and rubber boots, he said his shirt often got wet with the combination of crude oil, sea water and chemical dispersant. Ducote, like Barisich, said he is filing a claim under the medical settlement.

"That has been a disaster in our lives," said Ducote, from the town of Meraux, in coastal St. Bernard Parish. "The little amount of money they're trying to give us, it's never going to replace our quality of life, our health."

In response, BP points to language in U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier's order approving the medical settlement. Barbier noted that both sides said the settlement was a fair and reasonable alternative to litigation, and that fewer than 100 of 200,000 potential class members objected.

BP also lists numerous steps it took after the disaster to protect workers' health, including protective clothing and safety classes.

Cleanup workers who faced possible contact with oil and dispersants were "provided safety training and appropriate personal protective equipment, and were monitored by federal agencies and BP to measure potential exposure levels and help ensure compliance with established safety procedures," BP said in an email to The Associated Press.

Not all used that equipment, however. Dr. Edward Trapido, a cancer specialist and the lead researcher on a study of cleanup crews and their families that is underway at the Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center, said many worked without the protective clothing because of sweltering heat.

Trapido said results of the long-term health studies could help improve response to future oil spills and other disasters.

"Oil is not going away, and whatever kind of energy it is - whether it's nuclear, whether it's coal or oil - all of these have had problems in recent years where people get exposed to it," Trapido said.

Join the discussion

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zorcof April 11 2014 at 3:25 PM

Funny how his doctoer declines to comment.

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mister teddy April 11 2014 at 10:16 PM

As a 27 year EMT/rescue veteran I saw and felt the effects of 911 on myself and people I worked with, during that black shadow in time, and how their health and mine deteriorated over time. I am sad to say I would never do anything like that again because our government and our health insurance company's refuse to acknowledge the health risks cause by the air quality during those two months of rescue and recovery. I now tell our young rescue personal don't go there, no matter the heartbreak, because your health will not be covered and your life will be altered...

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2 replies
helenebro mister teddy April 12 2014 at 12:33 AM

This is the saddest testament to the truth I have ever read.

Flag Reply 0 rate up
proteus12544 mister teddy April 12 2014 at 3:21 AM

Thank you for all you did. I lost my brother on 9/11. I am truly sorry that your health and life have been changed and I hope that things improve for you. You will be in my prayers. I am hoping that does not offend you. Again, thank you.

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allstarcaps April 12 2014 at 8:58 AM

MILLIONS will be sickened, and will eventually die from the Nanoparticle Dispersant called COREXIT that the US Government authorized 10,000 times the toxic limit to be sprayed in the gulf to contain the oil spill. It was clearly known the environmental impact of the decision to do it, and clearly known the ecosystem would be wrecked, as well as there being future human casualties, but for the benefit of commerce the President authorized COREXIT's use! Here's the proof -

http://www.virlab.virginia.edu/Nanoscience_class/lecture_notes/Nano_challenges_and_fears_Supporting_materials_files/Nanoparticle_toxicity/Nanos%20Troubled%20waters%20-%20Etc%20Group.pdf

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Buzz April 11 2014 at 3:13 PM

The lawyers are lined up with their hands out!

Flag Reply +5 rate up
Denise April 12 2014 at 8:25 AM

wow

Flag Reply +2 rate up
ccwww591 April 12 2014 at 12:09 PM

YOu should submit these comments/story to the New York Times and maybe the rest of the country will come to their senses as to the destruction that energy produced from oil is REALLY COSTING our citizens. Thank you for postihg this. Most people just think the oil clean up is complete and everyone back to normal l-- as I have read the damages promised to the people by the BP (such as the commercial fishermen who lost their livihood as the fish died.) have never been paid what they were promised. That's another good story that NYT should run!

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1 reply
langley68 ccwww591 April 12 2014 at 1:35 PM

I doubt it. Look at the comments before yours.

Flag Reply +1 rate up
melgtriplett April 12 2014 at 7:41 AM

If you didn't live there at the time, I don't think you realize how bad things were. You can say its about the money but it is not. My family and I got really sick. My children were the worst. They were always shallow breathing, very pale, nausea, burning eyes and extreme fatigue. They were 3 and 10. I called the hotline nurse. I was told long term effects may be birth defects, lung problems and cancer. They told me they weren't sure what to tell me to do except turn off the air conditioner and not to go outside. unable to do that in the summer in Florida. Took the kids to the doctor, I was told it had nothing to do with the oil spill. Doctor said it was a dairy allergy. My kids have always had dairy with no problem and to this day no dairy problem. Of course it had nothing to do with the oil spill. The oil spill has made so many people sick, has ruined the environment and shut down businesses. We and many other people that the oil spill has affected, will never see a penny from the oil company. As you can see from this article, they are going to defend themselves and say peoples health problems have to be caused by something else. THEY DONT CARE ABOUT THE PEOPLE AND THEIR LIVES! I lived in Florida for 36yrs, we had to move to another state to protect my families health. I remember when the clean up started. They hired people for about 10 dollars and hour. For many people their that was a lot of money. They didn't give them training or special gear. Once people were getting sick, they started giving out gear to save their butts. so for the people that did not live in the area at the time, unless you went through it, you don't know. believe it or not but the media doesn't show every thing. such as people coughing up blood. NOT ABOUT THE MONEY, we have never received a penny and never will. That's ok, I moved my family to try and save their health.

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jay love April 11 2014 at 8:25 PM

I live here in Florida, Tampa bay area and you would not believe the numbers of people who tried to latch onto the free money train after that terrible oil spill happened and the subsequent trust fund that was set up to assure the govts. and the people that legitimate claims would be paid for and legitimate damages to people and structures and business would be paid out? I myself knew of several idiots who very blatantly said they were applying for "their share" of those funds, even though they suffered no damages or illness that I could see? of course there where legitimate claims but I am pretty sure most of them where paid off?

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2 replies
CHUCK jay love April 11 2014 at 10:49 PM

The American way. Not that I approve of these leaches.

Flag Reply +1 rate up
helenebro jay love April 12 2014 at 12:26 AM

Hopefully they will be caught up to like the woman who tried to cash in by claiming of injury from the Boston boming. Sooner or later, one way or the other, those who deserve to be punished will be. I truly do believe that. Hope flows eternal...or something like that.

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up.yours April 12 2014 at 1:49 PM

BP did what was good for BP! Individuals and small groups never had the resources to suggest other than BP's settlement. If BP were really concerned about health risks, it would have provided FREE MEDICAL INSURANCE and FREE MEDICARE SUPPLEMENTAL INSURANCE (covering all cost) for those involved for life.

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flyingfortresb17 April 11 2014 at 3:21 PM

Sounds just like the men and women who suffered in Operation Desert Storm from all the pollutants in the gulf air and ground. And the VA still never got it right. I wonder how many soldiers are/were suffering the same thing?

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1 reply
RXTOXICWASTE flyingfortresb17 April 11 2014 at 3:35 PM

My heart goes out to all of our men and women who where sent into harms way. God bless all of them.

Flag Reply +1 rate up
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