EPA Whistleblower Accuses Agency of Covering Up Effects of Dispersant in BP Oil Spill Cleanup
BP having poured nearly two million gallons of the dispersant known as
Corexit into the Gulf of Mexico, many lawmakers and advocacy groups say
the Obama administration is not being candid about the lethal effects
of dispersants. We speak with Hugh Kaufman, a senior policy analyst at
the EPA’s Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response and a leading
critic of the decision to use Corexit. [includes rush transcript]
Hugh Kaufman, senior policy analyst at the EPA’s Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response.
This transcript is
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SHARIF ADBEL KOUDDOUS: The Obama administration has
given BP the go-ahead to keep its ruptured well sealed for another day
despite worries about the well leaking some oil and methane gas.
National Incident Commander Thad Allen said the seep was not cause for
Meanwhile, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or
OSHA, has released its analysis of BP’s data on the exposure of cleanup
workers to the chemical dispersants being used in the Gulf. OSHA chief
David Michaels told the environmental website Greenwire that, quote, "I
think you can say exposures are low for workers. Exposures of workers
on shore are virtually nonexistent. There are significant exposures
near the source, and that’s to be expected given the work being done
there. Those workers are given respiratory protection," he said.
But with BP having poured nearly two million gallons of the
dispersant known as Corexit into the Gulf, many lawmakers and advocacy
groups say the Obama administration is not being candid about the
lethal effects of dispersants. At a Senate subcommittee hearing last
week, Maryland Democrat Barbara Mikulski grilled administrators from
the EPA about Corexit and said she didn’t want dispersants to be the
Agent Orange of this oil spill.
SEN. BARBARA MIKULSKI: I’m concerned because I feel
and I believe, and my reading verifies, that we don’t know enough about
the impact of dispersants and dispersed oil on people, marine life and
water quality. I’m very concerned. And my question is, should we ban
them? Should we take a time out from using them? What are the short-
and long-term consequences of using them? I don’t want dispersants to
be the Agent Orange of this oil spill. And I want to be assured, in
behalf of the American people, that this is OK to use and OK to use in
the amounts that we’re talking about.
AMY GOODMAN: Maryland Senator Barbara Mikulski.
While concerns over the impact of chemical dispersants continue
to grow, Gulf Coast residents are outraged by a recent announcement
that the $20 billion government-administered claim fund will subtract
money cleanup workers earn by working for the cleanup effort from any
future claims. Fund administrator Kenneth Feinberg says the ruling will
apply to anyone who participates in the Vessels of Opportunity program,
which has employed hundreds of Gulf Coast residents left out of work
because of the spill. It’s seen as an effort to limit the number of
lawsuits against BP.
We’re joined now by two guests on these two issues, on Corexit
and the workers. Independent journalist Dahr Jamail is joining us from
Tampa, Florida. He’s been reporting from the Gulf Coast for three
weeks. His latest article
at Truthout is called "BP’s Scheme to Swindle the ‘Small People.’" And
from Washington, DC, we’re joined by Hugh Kaufman, a senior policy
analyst at the EPA’s Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response. He’s
been a leading critic of the decision to use Corexit.
We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Let’s begin with
Hugh Kaufman. First of all, explain what Corexit is, the company that
makes it, what’s in it, and your concerns.
HUGH KAUFMAN: Well, Corexit is one of a number of
dispersants, that are toxic, that are used to atomize the oil and force
it down the water column so that it’s invisible to the eye. In this
case, these dispersants were used in massive quantities, almost two
million gallons so far, to hide the magnitude of the spill and save BP
money. And the government—both EPA, NOAA, etc.—have been sock puppets
for BP in this cover-up. Now, by hiding the amount of spill, BP is
saving hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars in fines, and
so, from day one, there was tremendous economic incentive to use these
dispersants to hide the magnitude of the gusher that’s been going on
for almost three months.
Congressman Markey and Nadler, as well as Senator Mikulski, have
been heroes in this respect. Congressman Markey made the BP and
government put a camera down there to show the public the gusher. And
when they did that, experts saw that the amount of material, oil being
released, is orders of magnitudes greater than what BP and NOAA and EPA
were saying. And the cover-up started to evaporate.
But the use of dispersants has not. Consequently, we have
people, wildlife—we have dolphins that are hemorrhaging. People who
work near it are hemorrhaging internally. And that’s what dispersants
are supposed to do. EPA now is taking the position that they really
don’t know how dangerous it is, even though if you read the label, it
tells you how dangerous it is. And, for example, in the Exxon Valdez
case, people who worked with dispersants, most of them are dead now.
The average death age is around fifty. It’s very dangerous, and it’s an
economic—it’s an economic protector of BP, not an environmental
protector of the public.
Now, the one thing that I did want to mention to you, Amy,
that’s occurred in most investigations, back even in the Watergate
days, people said, "follow the money." And that’s correct. In this
case, you’ve got to follow the money. Who saves money by using these
toxic dispersants? Well, it’s BP. But then the next question—I’ve only
seen one article that describes it—who owns BP? And I think when you
look and see who owns BP, you find that it’s the majority ownership, a
billion shares, is a company called BlackRock that was created, owned
and run by a gentleman named Larry Fink. And Vanity Fair just
did recently an article about Mr. Fink and his connections with Mr.
Geithner, Mr. Summers and others in the administration. So I think
what’s needed, we now know that there’s a cover-up. Dispersants are
being used. Congress, at least three Congress folks—Congressman Markey,
Congressman Nadler and Senator Mikulski—are on the case. And I think
the media now has to follow the money, just as they did in Watergate,
and tell the American people who’s getting money for poisoning the
millions of people in the Gulf.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Hugh Kaufman, who works at
the Environmental Protection Agency. This is an issue we’ve brought up
before, but it’s an absolutely critical one, the issue of proprietary
information of these companies, in particular, the ingredients of
Corexit, even though 1.8 million pounds of it have been dumped into the
Gulf. What’s in Corexit? Do you know? What is EPA allowed to know, and
what is the company allowed to keep private?
HUGH KAUFMAN: EPA has all the information on what’s
in—the ingredients are. The largest ingredient in Corexit is oil. But
there are other materials. And when the ingredients are mixed with oil,
the combination of Corexit or any dispersant and oil is more toxic than
the oil itself. But EPA has all that information. That’s a red herring
issue being raised, that we have to somehow know more information. When
you look at the label and you look at the toxicity sheets that come
with it, the public knows enough to know that it’s very dangerous. The
National Academy of Science has done work on it. Toxicologists from
Exxon that developed it have published on it. So, we know enough to
know that it’s very dangerous, and to say that we just have to know
more about it is a red herring issue. We know plenty. It’s very
dangerous. And in fact, Congressman Nadler and Senator Lautenberg are
working on legislation to ban it.
AMY GOODMAN: And I should correct myself: 1.8 million gallons, I think it is, of Corexit that’s been dumped. Sharif?
SHARIF ADBEL KOUDDOUS: And Hugh Kaufman—
HUGH KAUFMAN: Tha’s correct, almost two million gallons of—yes, sir.
SHARIF ADBEL KOUDDOUS: So the—
HUGH KAUFMAN: I’m sorry, I’m not—
SHARIF ADBEL KOUDDOUS: No, no, go ahead. The dispersant is—
HUGH KAUFMAN: I’m not hearing you, sir.
SHARIF ADBEL KOUDDOUS: These nearly two million gallons
have been dispersed not only on the surface of the water, but also
5,000 feet below the water, as well. Can you talk about that?
HUGH KAUFMAN: Well, not only do you have airplanes flying
and dropping them on the Gulf region, like Agent Orange in Vietnam, but
a large amount of it is being shot into the water column at 5,000 feet
to disperse the oil as it gushers out. And so, you have spread,
according to the Associated Press, over perhaps over 44,000 square
miles, an oil and dispersant mix. And what’s happened is, that makes it
impossible to skim the oil out of the water. One of the things that
happened is they brought this big boat, Whale, in from Japan to
get rid of the oil, and it didn’t work because the majority of the oil
is spread throughout the water column over thousands of square miles in
the Gulf. And so—and there’s been a lot of work to show the
dispersants, which is true, make it more difficult to clean up the mess
than if you didn’t use them. The sole purpose in the Gulf for
dispersants is to keep a cover-up going for BP to try to hide the
volume of oil that has been released and save them hundreds of
millions, if not billions, of dollars of fines. That’s the purpose of
using the dispersants, not to protect the public health or environment.
Quite the opposite.
AMY GOODMAN: You’ve made comparisons between Corexit, the
use of Corexit and hiding BP’s liability, and what happened at Ground
Zero after the attacks of September 11th, Hugh Kaufman.
HUGH KAUFMAN: Yeah, I was one of the people who—well, I
did. I did the ombudsman investigation on Ground Zero, where EPA made
false statements about the safety of the air, which has since, of
course, been proven to be false. Consequently, you have the heroes, the
workers there, a large percentage of them are sick right now, not even
ten years later, and most of them will die early because of respitory
problems, cancer, etc., because of EPA’s false statements.
And you’ve got the same thing going on in the Gulf, EPA
administrators saying the same thing, that the air is safe and the
water is safe. And the administrator misled Senator Mikulski on that
issue in the hearings you talked about. And basically, the problem is
dispersants mixed with oil and air pollution. EPA, like in 9/11—I did
that investigation nine years ago—was not doing adequate and proper
testing. Same thing with OSHA with the workers, they’re using mostly
BP’s contractor. And BP’s contractor for doing air testing is the
company that’s used by companies to prove they don’t have a problem. If
you remember the wallboard pollution problem from China, the wallboard
from China, this company does that environmental monitoring. It’s a
massive cover-up. And so far, luckily, we have two members of Congress
and one member of the Senate on the case. Hopefully more will join in.
SHARIF ADBEL KOUDDOUS: Let’s go to a clip that’s been
circulating on the internet. It’s from an investigation from WKRG News
5 into the toxicity levels of water and sand on public beaches around
Mobile, Alabamba. One of the water samples collected near a boom at
Dauphin Island Marina just exploded when mixed with an organic solvent
separating the oil from the water. This is Bob Naman, the chemist who
analyzed the sample, explaining why it might have exploded.
BOB NAMAN: We think that it most likely happened due
to the presence of either methanol or methane gas or the presence of
the dispersant Corexit.
SHARIF ADBEL KOUDDOUS: Hugh Kaufman, can you talk about this video clip?
HUGH KAUFMAN: Well, yes. I saw that when it first came
out, I think on Sunday. And what they documented was that the water—you
know, when you’re on the sand with your children and they dig, and
there’s a little water?—they documented there was over 200 parts per
million of oil waste in the water, and it’s not noticeable to the human
eye, that the children were playing with on the beach. On top of it,
the contamination in one of the samples was so high that when they put
the solvent in, as a first step in identifying how much oil may be in
the water, the thing blew up, just as he said, probably because there
was too much Corexit in that particular sample.
But what’s funny about that is, on Thursday, the administrator
of EPA, in answering Senator Mikulski’s question at the hearing that
you played the clip on, said that EPA has tested the water up to three
miles out and onshore and found that it’s safe. And then, a few days
later, the television station in Pensacola and in Mobile document with
their own limited testing that that statement was false, misleading
and/or inaccurate by the administrator, under oath, to Senator Mikulski
in that hearing.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: We want to also bring in Dahr
Jamail. He’s an independent journalist who’s been reporting from the
Gulf Coast for the past three weeks.
Dahr, you’re joining us from Tampa, Florida, right now. You just
drove along the Gulf Coast. But talk about this dispersant, as well.
You wrote in article about the effect it had on you personally.
DAHR JAMAIL: Right. About a week and a half ago, my
partner and I were down in Barataria talking with shrimpers and
fishermen and people affected by the oil disaster. And literally within
minutes of driving down there, the air was so chemically laden, you
could smell and taste chemicals in the air. And immediately, our eyes
began to burn. And everyone that we were talking with there, Tracy
Kuhns with the shrimpers’ union, Clint Guidry on the board of the
Louisiana Shrimp Association, and their spouses and everyone else that
we spoke with down there, everyone was complaining of different kinds
of health problems—headaches, which, actually, again, within minutes, I
personally was starting to experience that; shortness of breath;
nausea—all kinds of different symptoms, which I then went home and
started to educate myself on the immediate and then longer-term effects
of the two Corexit dispersants being used and realized that myself and
everyone that we spoke with down there were basically having onset of
these symptoms, and people were suffering from it very much.
And another very disturbing thing that I saw down there was I
met a charter fisherman named Gene Hickman, who showed me a video he
had taken two days prior to my arrival there. He was outside of his
house at night, and he had a video of, literally, crabs crawling out of
the water at night onto his bulkhead to escape the water. And Tracy
Kuhns, who I was also speaking with, said, “Look, we’ve been watching
regularly these huge plumes of dispersant under the surface of the
water coming into our canals, sometimes bubbling up to the surface.
We’ve seen marine life fleeing from these.” And there have been some
reports of this happening throughout the Gulf. But then, I went down to
Gene Hickman’s house and then saw, just minutes after watching this
video of crabs literally crawling out of the water trying to escape
from the water, to see basically crabs floating belly up in the water,
dead, all in his canal. There was sheen over the top of it, dead fish.
And again, the stench of the chemicals was so intense that our eyes
AMY GOODMAN: Dahr Jamail, your piece in Truthout is called "BP’s Scheme to Swindle the ‘Small People.’" What is that scheme?
DAHR JAMAIL: Right. Well, the scheme is—let’s be really
clear, Amy. We all know that context for news reporting is key. And
Kenneth Feinberg, who is the Obama-appointed individual in charge of
this $20 billion compensation fund for victims of the BP oil disaster,
who is he being paid by? He is being paid by BP to do this job. When he
was asked recently, just in the last forty-eight hours, how much he’s
being paid, he said, "That’s between me and British Petroleum." So
let’s be—let’s start right there.
And then, to move forward, this story came up because I was
talking with Clint Guidry, who I just mentioned, and he was, like all
the other fishermen, outraged by how this fund is being handled. And
how it’s being handled is that these people who join this so-called
Vessels of Opportunity program, which are basically fishermen who are
now completely put out of work, the shrimping and the fishing industry
in Louisiana—and this is spreading across the coast along with the oil,
as it travels across the coast—is completely shut down, so these people
are forced in to do this work, going out skimming, putting out oil
boom, other types of recovery efforts for BP, because it’s literally
the only way they can make a living now. And so, Feinberg then recently
announces, last Friday, as you reported, that, “No, actually now all
the money that you’re earning, you folks in the Vessels for Opportunity
program, any future compensation claims that you make, this money will
be deducted from that claim.”
And so, upon further investigation, it turns out there’s a
lawyer in Louisiana named Stephen Herman, and his firm, back on May
2nd, had an email correspondence with a law firm representing BP. And
he questioned this very thing, because it had first come up way back at
the beginning of this disaster when people were going and looking into
joining the Vessels for Opportunity program, but before they could
join, they were going to be asked to sign a waiver. Well, this was of
course then brought—Stephen Herman brought this to the attention of the
BP lawyer, questioned it, challenged it. And then the BP lawyer wrote
back and said, “That is not going to happen. We’re going to tear up
those claims. We’re not going to do that.”
Stephen Herman also questioned BP’s lawyer as to this very thing
that we just saw Feinberg do, which was, "I want to make very clear,"
said Herman, "that any of this work, any of the payment for the work
these folks do, will not later be taken out of claims that they may
make for future compensation for loss of livelihood, etc." And he was
told at that time in a response on May 3rd by BP’s lawyer, “Absolutely,
that will not happen. That is BP’s stated position.” And so, then we
have Feinberg come out Monday, and every day since then, acting as
basically a BP salesman trying to push this new agenda that you have to
file your claim within a year, and then, once you do that, you’ll get
paid, and you will not file any further claims. And then, of course,
any work that you’ve done in this Vessels for Opportunity program, any
of that money will be deducted from any future claims. So this directly
contradicts what BP said to Stephen Herman’s law firm in New Orleans
back on May 3rd. And again, we have Kenneth Feinberg running around,
clearly accountable to BP, clearly working in the interests of BP, and
as he’s being accused by Clint Guidry and basically fishermen up and
down the Gulf Coast at this point in the Vessels for Opportunity
program, is that this a guy who’s doing nothing but working to try to
limit BP’s long-term liability for this disaster.
AMY GOODMAN: Dahr Jamail, we want to thank you very much
for being with us, independent journalist. His latest piece in Truthout
is called "BP’s Scheme to Swindle the ‘Small People.’" Special thanks
to WEDU, PBS in Tampa. Florida, where he is speaking to us from. And
Hugh Kaufman, senior policy analyst at the EPA’s Office of Solid Waste
and Emergency Response, for joining us from Washington, DC. Of course,
we will continue to cover the fallout of the spill in the Gulf of
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