by Kevin Allman
This week, at least nine men working with BP's Corexit dispersant were taken from the coastal cleanup site -- some by helicopter -- to West Jefferson Medical Center in Marrero, where they complained of various respiratory ailments, including shortness of breath and nosebleeds. Yesterday, BP CEO Tony Hayward proffered a unique explanation for their ailments; the men were suffering from food poisoning:
Corexit, a dispersant, is being sprayed into the Gulf to break down the oil. The safety data information sheet from the manufacturer states that people should "avoid breathing in vapor" from Corexit, and that masks should be work when Corexit is present in certain concentrations in the air.
BP has not supplied workers with masks when they work near the oil and dispersants. ...
Tony Hayward, the chief executive officer of BP, offered another explanation for the fishermen's illness: spoiled food.
"Food poisoning is clearly a big issue," Hayward said Sunday. "It's something we've got to be very mindful of. It's one of the big issues of keeping the Army operating. You know, the Army marches on their stomachs."
An expert on foodborne illness cast doubt on Hayward's theory.
"Headaches, shortness of breath, nosebleeds -- there's nothing there that suggests foodborne illness," said Dr. Michael Osterholm, a professor at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health. "I don't know what these people have, but it sounds more like a respiratory illness."
The federal government assures us that cleanup workers are covered by OSHA's Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response standard:
Workers involved at the oil spill cleanup sites are covered by OSHA's Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response standard (1910.120 and 1926.65). This standard requires that workers be provided protective equipment and special training by specially trained personnel who have received extensive training. ...
Safe work practices and personal protective equipment (e.g., oil-resistant gloves, boots, coveralls, and safety glasses) should protect oil spill response and cleanup workers. These precautions need to fit the hazards of the job. Because of this, employers need to evaluate each job; decide what the hazards are; use safe work practices; provide workers with the right protective equipment; and train workers about the job, hazards, and required protections. Workers have the right to be trained about the hazards they may face and how to protect themselves from harm.
Nothing in the OSHA standards about food poisoning.