4 years after spill, questions on long-term health

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BP oil spill 4 years later
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4 years after spill, questions on long-term health
FILE - The Transocean Development Driller III, the rig responsible for drilling the main relief well at the site of the Deepwater Horizon oil wellhead, is seen on the Gulf of Mexico near the coast of Louisiana, in this Aug. 14, 2010 file photo. A relief well drilled nearly 2.5 miles beneath the floor of the Gulf of Mexico has intersected BP's blown-out well, a prelude to plugging it once and for all, the U.S government said late Thursday Sept. 16, 2010. The final seal should happen by Sunday. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)
Surfers try to catch waves as anglers fish the waters near the jetty in Grand Isle, La., as Tropical Depression Bonnie approaches the coast Saturday, July 24, 2010. Some ships prepared to move back to the site of BP's broken oil well Saturday as the remnants of a weakening Tropical Storm Bonnie rolled into the Gulf of Mexico. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)
Vessels operate at the site of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico Saturday, July 17, 2010. BP spokesman Daren Beaudo said Saturday afternoon the company would communicate if the trial was stopped. With no word from BP as 3:25 p.m. EDT passed, video footage showed the well was still plugged. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)
Vessels operate at the site of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico Saturday, July 17, 2010. BP spokesman Daren Beaudo said Saturday afternoon the company would communicate if the trial was stopped. With no word from BP as 3:25 p.m. EDT passed, video footage showed the well was still plugged. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)
Tourists watch the surf in Gulf Shores, Ala., after walking through a patch of oil that washed ashore Saturday, July 17, 2010. Tourism has picked up at the beach since BP stopped the flow of oil into the Gulf. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)
A oil cleanup worker rakes the sand in Orange Beach, Ala., Sunday, July 18, 2010. BP hopes to keep using its giant stopper to block oil from reaching the Gulf of Mexico until they plug the blown out well permanently, the company said Sunday. Retired U.S. Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen outlined a different plan on Saturday, saying that after the test was complete, the cap would be hooked up through nearly a mile of pipes stretching to ships on the surface that will collect the oil. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)
A workboat operates in a heavy oil slick at the site of the Deepwater Horizon incident in the Gulf of Mexico Friday, July 16, 2010. The wellhead has been capped and BP is continuing to test the integrity of the well before resuming production. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)
Workboats operate near the Helix Producer, center, at the site of the Deepwater Horizon incident in the Gulf of Mexico Friday, July 16, 2010. The wellhead has been capped and BP is continuing to test the integrity of the well before resuming production. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)
Workboats operate near the Transocean Development Drilling Rig II at the site of the Deepwater Horizon incident in the Gulf of Mexico Friday, July 16, 2010. The wellhead has been capped and BP is continuing to test the integrity of the well before resuming production. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)
Vessels operate at the site of the Deepwater Horizon incident in the Gulf of Mexico Friday, July 16, 2010. The wellhead has been capped and BP is continuing to test the integrity of the well before resuming production. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)
The Helix, rear, operates near a drilling rig at the site of the Deepwater Horizon incident in the Gulf of Mexico Friday, July 16, 2010. The wellhead has been capped and BP is continuing to test the integrity of the well before resuming production. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)
Drilling rigs and workboats operate at the site of the Deepwater Horizon incident in the Gulf of Mexico Friday, July 16, 2010. The wellhead has been capped and BP is continuing to test the integrity of the well before resuming production. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)
A workboat operates in a heavy oil slick at the site of the Deepwater Horizon incident in the Gulf of Mexico Friday, July 16, 2010. The wellhead has been capped and BP is continuing to test the integrity of the well before resuming production. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)
A workboat operates near the Transocean Discoverer Enterprise drilling rig at the site of the Deepwater Horizon incident in the Gulf of Mexico Friday, July 16, 2010. The wellhead has been capped and BP is continuing to test the integrity of the well before resuming production. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)
A newspaper is seen at a newsagent in central London with headline that BP have stopped the oil leak from their stricken well in the Gulf of Mexico, Friday, July 16, 2010. (AP Photo/Sang Tan)
Workers continue to construct a berm system on the northern end of the Chandeleur Islands, La., Thursday, July 15, 2010. A tightly fitted cap was successfully keeping oil from gushing into the Gulf of Mexico for the first time in three months, BP said Thursday. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)
Paula Walker pauses as she talks her experience on BP's Deepwater Horizon oil rig Thursday, July 15, 2010 in Houston. Walker was on the rig when it exploded and was evacuated safely. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Paula Walker poses before an interview about her experience on BP's Deepwater Horizon oil rig Thursday, July 15, 2010 in Houston. Walker was on the rig when it exploded and was evacuated safely from the burning rig. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Freshly sorted blue crabs sit in a box in Hopedale, La., Thursday, July 15, 2010. BP finally choked off the flow of oil into the Gulf of Mexico on Thursday, 85 days and up to 184 million gallons after the crisis unfolded _ then began a tense 48 hours of watching to see whether the capped-off well would hold or blow a new leak. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)
Fishermen continue to sort a load of blue crabs after hearing about the Deepwater Horizon oil spill being capped in Hopedale, La., Thursday, July 15, 2010. BP finally choked off the flow of oil into the Gulf of Mexico on Thursday _ 85 days and up to 184 million gallons after the crisis unfolded, then began a tense 48 hours of watching to see whether the capped-off well would hold or blow a new leak. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jinda, left, walks with St. Bernard Parish President Craig Taffaro, right, and Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser on the northern end of the Chandeleur Islands, La., Thursday, July 15, 2010. The officials were checking on a berm system to protect the island. Jindal said the berm system was working to keep oil off the islands. A tightly fitted cap was successfully keeping oil from gushing into the Gulf of Mexico for the first time in three months, BP said Thursday. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal looks over the berm system on the northern end of the Chandeleur Islands, La., Thursday, July 15, 2010. Jindal said the berm system was working to keep oil off the islands. A tightly fitted cap was successfully keeping oil from gushing into the Gulf of Mexico for the first time in three months, BP said Thursday. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, right, talks with workers about the berm system on the northern end of the Chandeleur Islands, La., Thursday, July 15, 2010. Jindal said the berm system was working to keep oil of the islands. A tightly fitted cap was successfully keeping oil from gushing into the Gulf of Mexico for the first time in three months, BP said Thursday. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)
Workers continue to construct a berm system on the northern end of the Chandeleur Islands, La., Thursday, July 15, 2010. A tightly fitted cap was successfully keeping oil from gushing into the Gulf of Mexico for the first time in three months, BP said Thursday. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)
The Helix Producer burns off natural gas as it operates in the area of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on the Gulf of Mexico, Tuesday, July 13, 2010. BP officials have placed a containment cap over the leak in hopes that the flow of oil will be diminished. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)
Vessels operate in the area of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on the Gulf of Mexico, Tuesday, July 13, 2010. BP officials have placed a containment cap over the leak in hopes that the flow of oil will be diminished. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)
A platform burns off excess gas near near the site of of the Deepwater Horizon oil well on the Gulf of Mexico off of the Louisiana coast on Tuesday, July 13, 2010. BP officials have placed a containment cap over the leak in hopes that the flow of oil will be diminished. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)
A work boat, left, operates near the Q4000 drilling rig, right, in the area of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on the Gulf of Mexico, Tuesday, July 13, 2010. BP officials have placed a containment cap over the leak in hopes that the flow of oil will be diminished. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)
Vessels operate in the area of the Deepwater Horizon disaster on the Gulf of Mexico, Tuesday, July 13, 2010. BP officials have placed a containment cap over the leak in hopes that the flow of oil will be diminished. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)
Beach walkers make their way past puddled oil along the beach in Orange Beach Ala., Wednesday, July 7, 2010. Oil washed ashore with the tide overnight, leaving an ugly stain that brought out dozens of BP workers to clean.(AP Photo/Dave Martin)
Hannah Carroll of Longview, Tex., lies in the sun on the oil stained beach in Orange Beach Ala., Wednesday, July 7, 2010. Oil washed ashore with the tide overnight, leaving an ugly stain that brought out hundreds of BP workers to clean.(AP Photo/Dave Martin)
Oil cleanup workers use absorbent booms to collect oil and tar balls in Orange Beach Ala., Wednesday, July 7, 2010. Oil washed ashore with the tide overnight, leaving an ugly stain that brought out dozens of BP workers to clean.(AP Photo/Dave Martin)
Oil cleanup workers use absorbent booms to collect oil and tar balls in Orange Beach Ala., Wednesday, July 7, 2010. Oil washed ashore with the tide overnight, leaving an ugly stain that brought out dozens of BP workers to clean.(AP Photo/Dave Martin)
Oil cleanup workers outnumber tourists on the beach in Pensacola Beach, Fla., Wednesday, July 7, 2010. Oil washed ashore overnight leaving an ugly stain that brought out hundreds of BP workers to clean.(AP Photo/Dave Martin)
Oil cleanup workers rake oil and sand into piles along the shore in Orange Beach Ala., Wednesday, July 7, 2010. Oil washed ashore with the tide overnight, leaving an ugly stain that brought out dozens of BP workers for cleaning duty. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)
George Barisich poses for a photo on his boat in Chalmette, La., Friday, Feb. 28, 2014. 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 of spew that would become the worst offshore spill in U.S. history. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
George Barisich shows off a spot on his face on his boat in Chalmette, La., Friday, Feb. 28, 2014. 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 of spew that would become the worst offshore spill in U.S. history. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
George Barisich poses for a photo on his boat in Chalmette, La., Friday, Feb. 28, 2014. 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 of spew that would become the worst offshore spill in U.S. history. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
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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.

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