Lawmakers Appeal to EPA, DOL for Safety Enforcement During Oil Spill Cleanup

June 7, 2010
On June 3, two members of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure sent a letter to EPA and the Department of Labor (DOL) demanding that all response and recovery workers responding to the Deepwater Horizon BP Oil Spill are provided proper protective equipment, including respirators, and that all federal laws governing worker safety and respiratory protection are enforced.

According to news reports, numerous workers have fallen ill after exposure to the oil, the dispersants, or some combination of the two. In their letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson and Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis, Rep. James L. Oberstar, D-Minn., T&I Committee Chairman, and Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., urged the federal government to ensure that BP is properly protecting the workers, and that BP is not allowed to evade liability or shift the cost to the taxpayers for any potential health effects.

“There are several hazardous substances present in the oil and in the chemical dispersants that are supposed to break up the oil, forming a ‘toxic soup.’ The dispersant that BP has chosen to use, Corexit, is considered one of the most toxic. Last week, several cleanup workers were taken to the hospital complaining of nausea, shortness of breath and other respiratory ailments,” said Oberstar. “It is the federal government’s responsibility to enforce public health and safety laws.

“Unfortunately, at the World Trade Center following the 9/11 terrorist attack, OSHA rules were not enforced, and thousands of emergency responders, area workers and residents are now sick and receiving treatment. This must not happen to those living and working in the Gulf Coast area.”

The letter cited a memo from OSHA Administrator David Michaels to Admiral Thad Allen, the National Incident Commander for the oil spill, which raised concerns about BP’s ability or willingness to protect its workers.

Michaels wrote, “The organizational systems that BP currently has in place, particularly those related to worker safety and health training, protective equipment, and site monitoring, are not adequate for the current situation or the projected increase in clean-up operations.”

“The toxic soup formed by the combination of oil and chemical dispersants in the Gulf poses a very real and immediate danger to workers exposed during the cleanup process,” said Nadler. “If we are to avert a monumental health crisis, the federal government must now uphold its responsibility to ensure that all cleanup workers are outfitted with proper protective equipment, including respirators, and that all contractors comply with federal safety and respiratory protection laws. The federal government failed to protect first responders, workers and community members in the aftermath of the attacks of 9/11 – and now thousands of people have respiratory illnesses that would have been preventable – and we absolutely must not allow that to happen again in the Gulf.”

About the Author

Laura Walter

Laura Walter was formerly senior editor of EHS Today. She is a subject matter expert in EHS compliance and government issues and has covered a variety of topics relating to occupational safety and health. Her writing has earned awards from the American Society of Business Publication Editors (ASBPE), the Trade Association Business Publications International (TABPI) and APEX Awards for Publication Excellence. Her debut novel, Body of Stars (Dutton) was published in 2021.

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