Trouble Brewing for BP

Jim Brown
 
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BP is close to plugging the leaking well but hostility is rising about their use of a cancer causing dispersant in record amounts in June and July. Congress has finally awakened to the problem and is demanding answers.

This problem is not new. I wrote about it in detail back on June 7th in this article. Food Chain Dying

Basically the oil dispersant they used is called Corexit. It is a pesticide as well as an oil dispersant and it is a highly dangerous neurotoxin. The product is lethal to any living organism in concentrations we small as 2.6 parts per million. BP used more than 1.8 million gallons of the stuff in the gulf. It was injected at the leak on the ocean floor, spread by boats and sprayed from a fleet of airplanes.

Concerns about the toxicity of the dispersant were stated in a May 26th memo from the EPA telling BP to cut back on its use. More than once BP was told to stop using it and use something else but they refused on the grounds that there was no other product available in the quantities needed to combat the leaking oil.

The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works is slated to hold a hearing on Wednesday on the use of Corexit in the gulf.

The dispersants are used on oil spills to breakup the floating gobs of oil into tiny particles that can be digested by bacteria that occur naturally in the ocean. In the May directive the EPA told BP to stop spraying the dispersant onto the surface of the water except in extreme circumstances. BP was told to get government approval for any surface application.

Apparently that approval became a daily rubber stamp because the government granted BP an approval on more than 74 days following that May directive. The EPA is now up in arms because the Coast Guard allowed BP to continue spraying for more than two months after the order to quit.

The EPA did say that the actual quantity of the dispersant used declined by 72% during that period but it also said BP applied significantly more of the chemical than they approved.

I wrote back in June that this was going to come back and haunt BP because of the long-term environmental consequences and the difficulty in proving what it had harmed. This is not something that will go away two weeks after the well is finally plugged.

This chemical causes long lasting health issues including cancer, respiratory, nervous system, liver, kidney and blood disorders. The EPA says the human health hazards from Corexit are "chronic."

This chemical was used in the Exxon Valdez oil spill and was later linked to long term health problems in the people involved in the cleanup.

Hospitals along the coast are already processing patients with eye, lung and skin problems from being exposed to the tainted water from the oil spill and we are just getting started. This is going to be a problem like the 9/11 illness. Firemen and cleanup workers came down with severe lung problems months after the cleanup because they inhaled toxic chemicals, dust and fibers at the disaster site. Only this time there are tens of thousands of people who worked on the cleanup, were on boats in the area, swam in the water or ate fish exposed to the poison.

With 1.8 million gallons in the water there is no telling how much of the food chain is going to be infected or how long it will last. Since big fish eat little fish it could persist for years before the fish are safe to eat again.

Months from now if the trickle of patients complaining about illnesses grows to a flood of patients then everyone with any ailment will immediately begin complaining that it was caused by BP and Corexit. This is going to be a never-ending story of financial pain for BP.

There are already hundreds of suits but the one to watch is a suit by a flounder fisherman named Obie Carlisle. On May 29th Carlisle waded into the waters of Mobile Bay in Alabama to spear some flounder. He said he was exposed to the oil and dispersant tainted water and ever since that day he "has experienced painful rashes, nosebleeds, nasal blockages, shortness of breath and of course emotional distress." The suit seeks compensatory and punitive damages against BP and its partners in the well and Halliburton, Cameron, Transocean, etc. Anyone who was remotely connected to the well is included in the suit.

The reason this is the suit to watch is the big name attorneys and the Motley Rice law firm that took the case. Ron Motley and Ron Rice are to of the biggest mass tort plaintiffs lawyers that have ever practiced law. They masterminded the $200 billion tobacco lawsuit and settlement and garnered about $13 billion in fees. They already have nine class action lawsuits in four states over the gulf oil spill. These are not your normal ambulance chasers. These guys are the real deal.

The suit was worded like a blueprint for a new mass tort case. The number and variety of physical ailments will cover almost anyone who lives on the coast whether they came into contact with the oil spill or not.

The problem with a mass tort case is that defendants can't fight each case in court. The process is too long and complicated and defendants are eventually forced to settle for billions rather than spend a decade and untold billions fighting it only to lose and pay an even larger amount later.

BP has stepped into a bear trap and there is no way for them to get free. The kind of problem created by the use of Corexit in a populated area is a major financial catastrophe that could eventually sink BP and cause a bankruptcy. Many giant companies have accidentally harmed thousands and were forced into bankruptcy and dissolution because of the court claims. BP can't escape this trap and it will only grow tighter as the months slide by.

Jim Brown

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