by Dahr Jamail
August 12th, 2010 | Inter Press Service
ISLAND, Alabama – BP says it is no longer using toxic dispersants to
break up the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. Gulf Coast residents claim
otherwise, and say they have the sicknesses to prove it.
On Aug. 5, Donny Mastler, a commercial fisherman who also works on boats, was at the Dauphin Island Marina.
“I was with my friend Albert, and we were both slammed with
exposure,” Mastler, told IPS, referring to toxic chemicals he inhaled
that he believes are associated with BP’s Corexit dispersants. “We both
saw the clumps of white bubbles on the surface that we know come from
the dispersed oil.”
Both of their eyes were watering and their throats were burning, so
Albert went to sit in his air-conditioned truck, while Mastler headed
“I started to vomit brown, and my pee was brown also,” Mastler said.
“I kept that up all day. Then I had a night of sweating and non-stop
diarrhea unlike anything I’ve ever experienced.”
BP has been using two oil dispersants, Corexit 9500 and Corexit
9527, both of which are banned in Britain. More than 1.9 million
gallons of dispersant has been used to date on the Gulf of Mexico oil
Pathways of exposure are inhalation, ingestion, skin, and eye
contact. Health impacts include headaches, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea,
abdominal pains, dizziness, chest pains and tightness, irritation of
eyes, nose, throat and lungs, difficulty breathing, respiratory system
damage, skin irrigation and sensitisation, hypertension, central
nervous system depression, neurotoxic effects, genetic damage and
mutations, cardiac arrhythmia, and cardiovascular damage, among several
Not along ago, at the same marina, WKRG News 5 took a water sample
to test for dispersants. The sample literally exploded when it was
mixed with an organic solvent separating the oil from the water.
Bob Naman, the chemist who analysed the sample, told the station,
“We think that it most likely happened due to the presence of either
methanol or methane gas or the presence of the dispersant Corexit.”
As for Mastler’s physical reaction to his exposure, Hugh Kaufman, an
EPA whistleblower and analyst, has reported this of the effects of the
“We have dolphins that are hemorrhaging. People who work near it are
hemorrhaging internally. And that’s what dispersants are supposed to
do…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
50. It’s very dangerous, and it’s an… economic protector of BP, not an
environmental protector of the public.”
By early July, the Alabama Department of Public Health said that 56
people in Mobile and Baldwin Counties had sought treatment for what
they believed were oil disaster-related illnesses.
Mastler had a previous exposure when he was working on a boat for a
BP contractor and brought aboard an oil-covered absorbent pad he found
in the water. That exposure, too, found Mastler with rashes on his
arms, a soar throat, and nausea. He told IPS he knows many island
residents who stay inside to avoid toxic fumes that blow in from the
BP claims to have conducted air monitoring of oil-effected areas. A
written statement by the company says, “The monitoring data shows that
few people, if any, are exposed to levels of oil or dispersants that
have even the potential to cause any significant adverse health
Many scientists and doctors disagree.
“The dispersants used in BP’s draconian experiment contain solvents
such as petroleum distillates and 2-butoxyethanol,” Dr. Riki Ott,
toxicologist and marine biologist, told IPS.
“Solvents dissolve oil, grease, and rubber. Spill responders have
told me that the hard rubber impellors in their engines and the soft
rubber bushings on their outboard motor pumps are falling apart and
need frequent replacement…Divers have told me that they have had to
replace the soft rubber o- rings on their gear after dives in the Gulf
and that the oil-chemical stew eats its way into even the Hazmat dive
suits,” Ott said.
“Given this evidence, it should be no surprise that solvents are
also notoriously toxic to people, something the medical community has
long known,” Dr. Ott added. “In ‘Generations at Risk’, medical doctor
Ted Schettler and others warn that solvents can rapidly enter the human
body: They evaporate in air and are easily inhaled, they penetrate skin
easily, and they cross the placenta into fetuses. For example, 2-
butoxyethanol is a human health hazard substance: It is a fetal toxin
and it breaks down blood cells, causing blood and kidney disorders.”
Even the federal government has taken precautions for its employees.
U.S. military officials decided to reroute training flights in the Gulf
region in order to avoid oil and dispersant tainted-areas.
Public health agencies operating in the region have told their
researchers who test the air quality to wear respirators when they are
offshore, and in preparation for a long-term study of health effects
from the BP disaster, the U.S. Labour Department has started gathering
data from thousands of workers.
Meanwhile, physical evidence around the Gulf continues to mount
daily. Ongoing reports of fish kills and wildlife deaths are a daily
On Aug. 5, in Port St. Joe, Florida, city officials closed a public
boat ramp following an unexplained fish kill in St. Joseph’s Bay that
caused hundreds of dead fish and crabs to wash ashore. Witnesses
sighted a brown, sludgy material roughly six miles offshore.
“My voice is gone,” Mastler, speaking to IPS with a gravelly voice.
“Another time I was at the marina and got exposed again, I could smell
the oil. I’ve got a lot of burning in my mouth right now.”
On Aug. 8 he said that his urine was still “brown”, but said he was
starting to feel “a little better”. Given that Mastler already had a
chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, he believes he is “like the
canary in the coal mine” with dispersant exposure.
Over the last six weeks, IPS has spoken with several people along
the Gulf Coast who have complained of skin rashes, respiratory
problems, nausea, headaches, burning eyes, and other problems they
believe to be associated with BP’s toxic dispersants.
Mastler told IPS he chose not to work for BP because he never trusted them.
“That’s why I never went to BP, and I’m not going to, and I don’t
appreciate the people they let die over this, and how they’re making us
sick, and we’ve already had some deaths around this island,” he added,
“They put untrained people out on the water, with faulty equipment, and
with faulty respirators.”
On Wednesday, Mastler was still suffering.
“I’m still feeling terrible. I’m about to go to the doctor again
right now. I might end up in the hospital. I’m short of breath, the
diarrhea has been real bad, I still have discolouration in my urine,
and the day before yesterday I was coughing up white foam with brown
spots in it.”
Mastler plans to file a claim against BP for his medical expenses.