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Bobby Jindal and the Corexit

Bobby Jindal and the Corexit
By Elizabeth Cook
How did Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, a state's rights advocate, react to the BP oil and the 1.84 million gallons of the toxic Corexit pouring into the Gulf of Mexico and state waters during the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster? Having largely escaped scrutiny during that time period, his record deserves a closer look.

Jindal, through Louisiana state officials, questioned early on the "trade-offs" the state was being asked to make, in terms of the use of the toxic dispersant Corexit on the BP oil, but it wasn't only BP that forced "trade-offs". Louisiana officials complained publicly and privately that there were too many unknowns concerning the effects of the toxic Corexit, but Jindal and state officials didn't bring all of their resources to bear when it came to protecting workers and residents from the toxic Corexit and oil mixture. In addition, the Louisiana Workforce Commission continued throughout the disaster, to actively recruit Louisiana residents to work the clean-up operations, despite Louisiana officials expressing concerns over chemical exposure for workers.

State officials appeared to shift gears as soon as the Macondo well was capped, focusing on seafood safety and marketing, and promotion of tourism, while appearing to downplay public health concerns. Long after the Macondo well was capped, Jindal and the state legislature had an opportunity to support two different resolutions to ban or severely limit the use of toxic dispersants. Both Jindal and the legislature failed to support the measures as they were defeated in the state legislature by a wide margin.

While BP has aggressively hyped in national media that all is well on the Gulf coast, a new report shows that 3 million pounds of oil was picked up in Louisiana alone the last several months, a number that has surged in 2013. Oil continues to drench the Louisiana wetlands and shows signs of increased toxicity from two oil components. The state is suing BP for damages accrued during the disaster...namely to wildlife, as illustrated in the original suit filed. Jindal allocated $10 million of a BP block grant fund of $25 million, to Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell, and Caldwell hasn't been shy about outsourcing those funds and spreading the funds around to law firms friendly to the campaigns of Caldwell and Jindal.

The state of Louisiana lobbied hard for, and eventually got, $15 million for "behavioral health treatment", $48 million for a seafood testing program, and $30 million for tourism promotion. In an examination of press releases, it appears that at no time were BP federal funds requested by the Jindal administration for the treatment of workers and residents exposed to the oil and Corexit, with one exception, when Jindal signed an executive order to allow additional EMTs at oil disaster work sites.

At no time did the state warn the people of Louisiana to not work the oil disaster out of concern for the health and safety of those workers, even though state officials publicly expressed concern for chemical exposure for people and workers several times during the course of the oil disaster. Despite the concerns over chemical exposure for workers, the state lobbied aggressively for BP to hire Louisiana workers, so that workers wouldn't have to collect unemployment insurance.

At no time did state officials appear to reason that an unemployment check and adequate compensation by the state and federal government, in lieu of BP compensation, would have been preferable for workers, rather than the threat of chemical exposure working the clean-up operations.

Reporter Dahr Jamail with Al Jazeera, in a report from October 27, 2013, asked Jindal "what his state was doing to protect and safeguard people from chemical exposure". Jindal responded:

"Coastal residents and response workers will be compensated through the deal reached between the Plaintiff Steering Committee and BP. BP must follow through on making whole [properly compensating] impacted residents and workers who experienced or are still experiencing health impacts as a result of the spill."

The cap for health damages, under the plaintiff's settlement, is around $69,000. That amount of money doesn't begin to cover expenses related to toxic exposure for individuals and families.

"$69,000 is not going to make people whole. They are going to be in debt the rest of their lives", said Betty Doud, former resident of Grand Isle on the Louisiana coast, hard hit during the BP oil disaster. Ms.Doud has tested positive for the chemicals associated with the oil and Corexit, and some of her test results reveal she is in the high, 95th percentile on some of the chemicals. She spoke about the continuing difficulty in getting treatment for chemical exposure on the Gulf coast. "I'm not going to doctors because they won't treat us for chemical exposure. You are treated for symptoms, not for the real reason. I've seen my friends go in and out of the hospitals and they're dead anyway. I'll take my chances with holistic cures."
After an examination of state of Louisiana press releases from that time period, it is apparent that no clinics or hospitals were ever designated as the go to medical places for residents and oil disaster workers, as reports were coming in of sickness and illness from exposure.

According to the Government Accountability Project Whistleblower Investigation, published on April 19th, 2013, titled "Deadly Dispersants in the Gulf: Are Public Health and Environmental Tragedies the New Norm for Oil Spill Cleanups?", several whistleblowers for that report, who sought medical attention from state hospitals and clinics, were diagnosed with heat stress and other ailments and offered no treatment for toxic exposure (Part 1, Pages 46-48). The same report chronicled just one state doctor that appeared to accurately assess the risks to workers and residents from chemical exposure. The same report says this doctor was an "exception" (Part 1, Page 44).

Timeline of Events

In May of 2010, the state expressed strong reservations in letters to BP, and publicly, about the use of the toxic dispersant Corexit on the environment and health of citizens. A letter dated May 8th, 2010, from three Louisiana Secretaries of state departments is archived on emergency.la.gov. BP's response to the May 8th, 2010 letter, and a copy of one other letter, dated May 13th, 2010, addressed to BP, were obtained in a Freedom of Information request in the fall of 2012.
Here are just a few key points state officials posed to BP in the May 13th, 2010 letter to BP:
'While we do appreciate any steps being attempted to mitigate the impacts of this spill on our coast, we cannot simply concur with the tradeoff you are suggesting we make as it relates to our underwater wildlife without knowing what that tradeoff is...
...Some examples of words seemingly carefully chosen in your response gives us pause, and perhaps even demonstrate that our fragile wildlife area has become a laboratory for testing the use of these chemicals. For instance, statements like "...potential damage to the environment may be reduced by dispersing the oil in the water column..."; "...a level that is less likely to affect the environment..."; and "...human studies suggest that humans are relatively resistant...", without the science to back them up, are nothing more than educated guesses.'
On May 14th 2010, in an article published by WAFB of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Alan Levine, Secretary of Department of Health and Hospitals, expressed this about BP's decision to use the dispersant Corexit on the oil pouring into the Gulf: "We're now using one of the richest ecosystems in the world as basically a laboratory, and its not appropriate," Levine said.

In the same article, Louisiana Secretary Robert Barham sounded prophetic, expressing concerns that the application of dispersants in deepwater, thousands of feet deep in the Gulf, could prove harmful to the health of residents and business.

Both Levine and Barham, in the same article, foreshadowing the state's strategy down the road, report that the state was not planning to file a law suit to stop the use of the Corexit, but instead would plan a "seafood safety certification program" and have BP "foot the bill". Statements calling for funding of a seafood testing program were also made in the initial May 8 and May 13th, 2010 letters from the state to BP.

Barham sent his own letter, on May 18th, 2010, to David Rainey, Vice President of Gulf of Mexico Exploration for BP:

"The use of sub-sea dispersants to combat the effects of the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill on our coast is an action that I am not able to give my support to. While I understand the importance of mitigating the effects of this oil on our fragile wetlands to date, little or no substantive data has been provided to the state of Louisiana concerning the efficacy and risks associated with deep injection of dispersants."

In the meantime, concerns were growing over the safety of Louisiana fisher men, women and others working the oil disaster clean-up. In an "internal memo" that was widely publicized, OSHA Administrator David Michael wrote a letter of alarm to United States Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen, the federal on scene coordinator of the BP oil disaster, on May 25, 2010, a letter that was made public, stating:

"I am writing to express OSHA's growing concern, over significant deficiencies in BP's oil spill response operations related to worker safety, and request your assistance in communicating these concerns to BP."

On May 26th, 2010, the Los Angeles Times published an article reporting illness from chemical exposure of oil spill workers. The article quoted then Congressman Charles Melancon as having written a letter to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to provide treatment for the workers in clinics, paid for by BP. Sibelius opened a clinic in Venice, Louisiana, "in coordination with the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals", but the GAP Investigative Whistleblower Report says the clinic was staffed by a general practicioner, heavily guarded on a private, BP compound, "making it impossible for workers to anonymously seek medical assistance as some workers sought due to fears that they would be retaliated against for reporting health problems" (Part 1, Page 44, 46).

On May 29th, several Louisiana officials addressed a letter to then CEO of BP Tony Hayward, requesting $457 million for a seafood testing program. There is no record found, in Louisiana state press releases or articles, of any request from the state for monies for health services for workers and residents impacted from exposure to the oil and Corexit. State of Louisiana officials, and Jindal, refused to respond to questions for this article.

In a June 1st, 2010, in a Louisiana Environmental Action Network statement, fishermen reported threats of being fired if they wear respirators for protection from chemical exposure.

The Associated Press issued a report dated June 3rd, 2010, that workers were becoming ill from possible chemical exposure, and that adequate safety protection, such as respirators, were not being provided.

In the same report, it was stated that "dozens" of oil cleanup workers had "filed complaints with the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals" and "the Louisiana poison center and clinics and hospitals", according to a DHH spokeswoman, Olivia Watkins.

In a June 4th, 2010 report in the Wall Street Journal, OSHA Administrator David Michaels, in an interview said workers did not have to use respirators, citing test results as evidence the respirators weren't needed. Michaels now seemed to downplay concerns over BP's handling of safety issues:

'David Michaels, assistant secretary for the Department of Labor's OSHA, said in an interview Thursday that based on test results so far, cleanup workers are receiving "minimal" exposure to airborne toxins. OSHA will require that BP provide certain protective clothing, but not respirators...

...In his letter to Mr. Allen, Mr. Michaels had warned that if BP didn't take immediate steps, OSHA would have to move into "enforcement mode," which could result in fines for violating regulations. Mr. Michaels said Thursday that the improvements had prevented any need for enforcement action and OSHA is focusing on helping BP comply with existing regulations.'

On the same day as the Wall Street Journal's report, the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals sent a letter to OSHA Administrator David Michaels, dated June 4th, 2010, calling on the agency to "conduct a full investigation of oil spill workers conditions and safety." The state also revealed in that letter that DHH had begun collecting data on oil spill worker illnesses and injuries.

On June 16th, Pro-Publica reported that the Louisiana state's tallies for oil spill workers illness exceeded that of BP's totals. On June 17th, 2010, Pro-Publica published a report citing concerns of Joseph Hughes, director of the worker training program with the National Institute of Health for Environmental Health Sciences, and Jimmy Guidry, Louisiana state health officer, that BP's four hour safety training program for Gulf oil spill workers fails to address critical issues, including "chemical inhalation, the health effects of dispersants, and the risks of direct contact with weathered, crude oil."

GAP Whistleblower Investigation Report has numerous interviews with men and women who worked the oil disaster, who reported that they were directly sprayed with the Corexit (Part 1, pages 14-18). These reports, all through the summer of 2010, were circulating through alternative media, blogs and facebook.

Despite the concerns over worker safety, the state of Louisiana continued to aggressively recruit Louisiana workers for the Vessel of Opportunity Program, the program designed to employ fishermen and their boats in cleanup operations. From the Louisiana emergency web site:

"BATON ROUGE (June 18, 2010) - In a letter to Doug Suttles, Chief Operating Officer of BP America, Inc., Louisiana Workforce Commission Executive Director Curt Eysink has requested BP immediately require all contractors and sub-contractors working for BP on oil spill efforts comply with a number of measures that ensure Louisiana workers are hired and trained for clean-up efforts in Louisiana."

The letter to Suttles contains the following statement:

"As the state agency responsible for workforce development and unemployment insurance for the people of Louisiana, the Louisiana Workforce Commission (LWC) has a significant interest in ensuring that local, qualified labor is put to work and that our citizens continue to be able to earn a living and not have to rely on unemployment insurance benefits."

In the midst of growing concerns for the safety and health of Louisiana oil spill workers and residents, Jindal had begun to lobby hard for an end to the moratorium on drilling, claiming significant economic losses for the state. On June 21, 2010, Jindal and the state filed a brief in support of a suit for an injunction on the deepwater drilling moratorium. Even though the Macondo well had still not been capped, and the technology to cap it had not yet been implemented, Jindal chose to weigh in on economic considerations before the protection of the environment, and the coast itself, and the people who rely on fisheries one way or another. What wasn't being demanded was a recall of Louisiana oil spill workers until adequate safety measures and protections were implemented.

Just a day after the press release from Jindal on the brief filed to support an injunction on the deepwater drilling moratorium, a June 22-23, 2010 meeting organized by the Institute of Medicine, at the request of the U.S. Department of Health and Hospitals, was held in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Louisiana State Health Officer Jimmy Guidry at times appeared to downplay health concerns:

"And Guidry, Louisiana's health department director, said hospital reports so far show no increase in asthma or other respiratory ailments."

Guidry also said this:

"There are a lot of unknowns," says Jimmy Guidry, Louisiana state health officer. "This is more than a spill. This is ongoing leakage of a chemical, and adding chemicals to stop the chemicals. We're feeling like we're in a research lab."

Despite that ominous statement by Guidry, Jindal and state of Louisiana officials reopened 86 percent of recreational fishing areas on the Louisiana coast on July 14th, 2010, with a ceremony to celebrate the reopening on Grand Isle, July 16th, 2010.

On July 29th, the state renewed its request for funding from BP for mental health services for its residents, in a letter to Frank Hernandez, Vice President of Government and Public Affairs for BP America Inc. Research of the mental health effects of the Exxon Valdez oil spill that occurred in 1989 in Alaska, was cited as evidence of the need for the funding. There was no mention of the harm that had been done to coastal Louisiana workers, residents or the environment, from the use of Corexit in that letter. In citing the research of the Exxon Valdez spill, even though the Exxon Valdez spill saw one of the largest uses of Corexit in the history of the country prior to the BP oil disaster, with attendant environmental and health tragedies in its wake, the dispersant issue was never mentioned in the state request for funding for mental health treatment of Louisiana workers and residents.

Sometime in August, after the capping of the Deepwater Horizon Well, the state utilized a video produced by Dr. LuAnn White PhD, Director of the Tulane Center for Applied Environmental Public Health, Department of Global Environmental Health Sciences, Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, on its Department of Health and Hospitals web site, that appeared to downplay the effects of the Corexit:

'The following presentation, "Gulf Oil Spill 2010: Public Health Aspects", is presented by LuAnn E. White, PhD, DABT Director, Tulane Center for Applied Environmental Health (CAEPH) , Tulane School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, in response to the public health crisis in the Gulf. The two-part presentation will provide relevant information regarding the Deep Water Horizon oil spill, dispersants and the impact on health as it relates to the citizens of Louisiana and the ecological system.'

Although the above description makes the statement, essentially, that there is, a "public health crisis in the Gulf", the video appears to downplay that crisis. From the video:

"In general, hydrocarbons have a low degree of toxicity to humans-- That means, it takes a large amount to cause adverse effects.-- Symptoms get better when removed from exposure. Dispersants are much like soap you would use to wash your dishes...Corexit...does not bioaccumulate in the food chain...Fish and shrimp will move out of contaminated areas."

Dr. LuAnn White did not respond to questions for this article.

"The state was on the right track with the letters early on," said Dr. Riki Ott, marine toxicologist and survivor of the Exxon Valdez spill, in in email recently. Dr. Ott is spearheading the "Making it Right for Real" campaign to ban toxic dispersants.

"Dr. LuAnn White used old science. She should have known better," said Ott after reviewing White's video.
Ott continues, "Human health impacts of crude oil were well-established PRE-BP disaster...
..The short-term symptoms are evidence of OVER-Exposure for the individual. It does NOT ONLY take a large amount to cause adverse effects"... (Dr. Ott's evaluation of Dr. LuAnn White video and statements can be found here.)

"Workers and people in coastal communities were exposed to oil-dispersant in the air for at least four months; likely thousands were exposed to dangerous acute to intermediate exposures and are at risk of health impacts."
"White is flat wrong in several instances," Ott said. "For example, we know from the Exxon Valdez OIl Spill that fish, mammals, etc. most certainly DO NOT move out of contaminated areas." "...for the EPA and White to make the claim that dispersants are like soap focuses on the less toxic compounds, not the toxic ones."

Two studies after the oil disaster, on crabs in the Gulf, and pelicans migrated to Minnesota, demonstrated the bioaccumulation of Corexit in the food chain.

On August 3rd, 2010, in a Los Angeles Times report, Jindal again reinforces the state's strategy: Jindal aggressively lobbies for funding from BP to scientifically demonstrate the safety of Louisiana's seafood products...no questions were expressed as to whether or not the products should be pushed so soon after the capping of the Macondo well:

'With some gulf waters reopening to commercial fishing, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and other state officials demanded Monday that BP fund a $173-million, long-term seafood safety and marketing plan that would include testing samples of shrimp, crab, oysters and fish each month in all coastal parishes.
‘ "The key to consumer confidence is comprehensive testing," Jindal said during a news conference on a steamy fishing dock in Venice, La. "We need to be able to demonstrate, based on hundreds of samples every month, that this continues to be the safest seafood you can get anywhere in the country, anywhere in the world." ‘

‘ "The future of this industry is in peril," the Louisiana officials wrote in a letter to BP executives, cited in that same Los Angeles Times report. "The image of oil and dispersants will be difficult to overcome without science to back up our claims." '

In another sign that the state of Louisiana's shifting tactics regarding chemical exposure to residents and workers, Jimmy Guidry, the Louisiana state health officer, in a report published in August, 2010 in volume 40 of The Nation's Health publication, seemed to downplay the risks of chemical exposure to residents, a reversal from some of his previous statements:

'While the department works to mitigate immediate health risks from oil exposure, the spill’s effect on mental well-being will likely linger the longest, Guidry said. “We’re trying to minimize the exposure, but we know (residents’) exposure to this is probably not much worse than in urban areas where cars are spewing out petroleum byproducts,” he told The Nation’s Health.'

Guidry also alluded bluntly to the lack of choice for those fisher folk working the disaster and risking exposure, saying “People want to help clean up, are willing to hire on to help and are then told that there’s risk involved. They have to choose to go without a paycheck or help clean up this oil. If I’m not wealthy, I don’t have much of a choice.” Certainly an alternative choice to working the oil spill and almost certain exposure was not lobbied for aggressively by the state of Louisiana.

In the same report, Guidry also encouraged people to come to the Louisiana coast to vacation and eat the seafood, foreshadowing an intense, BP funding marketing strategy to restore the reputation of Gulf seafood, and encourage vacationers, and residents, to utilize Louisiana waters for recreational purposes.

Dr. LuAnn White was also interviewed for the article. She was identified in the report as "works closely with the Louisiana health department":

“Fortunately, the state’s public health system is in full response mode, said White, who has a background in toxicology and works closely with the Louisiana health department...
..Expanding on the state’s current public health systems is at the root of much of the response effort, White said.”

No evidence was given as to just how the state's public health system had been expanded to meet the needs of the "response effort", other than White citing expanded working hours for state public health workers.

Guidry, in the same article, seemed to suggest a public health system overwhelmed with the crisis.

'State health officer Guidry noted that “there’s not much of an infrastructure in public health for a surge — it’s very difficult to protect people when we’re constantly dealing with crises.” '

In the midst of the "crisis", Guidry suggests that the solution is for vacationers to come to Louisiana and eat the seafood.

'Even though the state’s public health work force is working around the clock, Guidry said the best way to help is for people to bring their vacation money to Louisiana’s coast.
“There’s a lot of expertise here and you can put yourself at risk (helping) if you’re not properly trained,” he said. “The way to help is to come and support us economically — stay at our hotels, eat our seafood. We need that support.” '

A major expansion of the state's seafood promotion and marketing efforts was to begin when BP finally funded the efforts in December of 2010, to the tune of $48 million. Those promotional efforts continue today even in the face of oiled wetlands that aren't recovering, and massive amounts of tar balls littering Louisiana shores.

A resolution to ban dispersant use in state waters, SB97, unless the dispersants were "practically nontoxic", was introduced before the Louisiana legislature in June of 2011. Robert Sullivan, a native of Cameron Parish and resident of New Orleans had lobbied for the resolution and was at the state capital on the day it was voted down, with just 19 people voting for the measure. Clearly, Jindal and the legislature were not behind this resolution.

"I immediately left the senate chambers after the vote, and went downstairs to the lobby,” said Robert Sullivan in an interview recently. “There were numerous people in suits, male and female, high-fiving each other. It was shameful."

In April of 2013, a bill that would have made the use of toxic dispersants as a last resort in the event of an oil spill didn't make it out of a Louisiana senate environmental panel.

Corexit remains a primary choice of the oil industry's arsenal to combat oil spills.

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