All, and especially those of you along the Gulf Coast:
Riki Ott is sponsoring a letter to Congress and needs people to sign, either personally or on behalf of the group they represent. The letter requests Congress to take IMMEDIATE action during the lame duck session. Here is the gist (but full text of the letter is below, for those of you who love details):
“There are pressing needs, compelling reasons, and an opportunity to change this outcome by directing penalties paid by BP under the Clean Water Act to fund restoration of the Gulf Coast environment and public health.”
To sign, simply email your full name, city, state and zip code, and say that you wish to sign the Letter to Congress to: Spill Info [spillinfo(at)rikiott.com]. Endorsements from Gulf region NGO’s (“non-government organizations” – non-profits are included here) are especially needed, so please share this. THE LETTER WILL BE SUBMITTED BY COB FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 12, 2010. Yes this is short notice but how long does it really take you to send an email? Just do it, right now. Thanks!
November xx, 2010
U.S. Senator Harry Reid U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell
Majority Leader Minority Leader
United States Senate United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510 Washington, DC 20510
Dear Majority Leader Reid and Minority Leader McConnell:
We are writing to respectfully ask that you act this calendar year to support environmental restoration and environmental justice for coastal communities impacted in the Gulf region. The BP disaster released an unprecedented amount of oil and toxic chemical dispersants into the Gulf. If past oil spills such as the Exxon Valdez, Prestige (Spain), and Hebei Spirit (South Korea) are considered, it will take decades to fully understand the damage to the environment and human health. In the past, injury to environment and human health has largely been treated as collateral damage with costs of damage and restoration ignored as “externalities” of our oil-based economy.
There are pressing needs, compelling reasons, and an opportunity to change this outcome by directing penalties paid by BP under the Clean Water Act to fund restoration of the Gulf Coast environment and public health.
The pressing need to direct a portion of BP’s penalties to restoration of public health in the Gulf is the evidence of an illnesses epidemic in the Gulf coincident with BP’s release of oil and toxic chemicals. This widespread epidemic of respiratory and other very serious health effects in children, adults, and cleanup workers in the Gulf coast region is almost totally unremarked in the extensive media and political attention to the BP/Deepwater Horizon blowout disaster – just as it was for cleanup workers in Alaska twenty-one years ago.1 Nonetheless, by August, there was a full-blown chemical illness epidemic in the Gulf with symptoms and/or diagnoses of respiratory problems, chemical pneumonitis, sore throats and hoarseness, ear and nose bleeds, blisters in the throat and nose, dizziness, nausea, fatigue, persistent skin rashes and MRSA infections, peeling palms and soles, internal bleeding (rectal, blood in vomit and urine, massive bruising, bleeding esophagus), massive headaches, passing out, diarrhea, brain fog or inability to concentrate, and tingling appendages, among other things.2 These illnesses are consistent with overexposure to oil and chemical dispersants; i.e., industrial solvents.3 People, independent labs, and independent chemists took air and water quality samples – and found dangerous levels of oil and/or dispersant biomarkers in the coastal seas, bayous, public beaches, backyard swimming pools, rainwater, and the air.4 Further, a growing number of people are having medical doctors test their blood and have discovered dangerous levels of oil and/or dispersant biomarkers in their bodies.5 This medical evidence is building and will soon be an unavoidable fact that the nation will know and have to deal with.
The medical community of the Gulf and government agencies were not prepared to handle a public health epidemic of chemical illnesses. The federal government sampled air and water quality; the public was led to believe the Gulf region was safe.6 Arguably, no region of the country is prepared for this, because our laws are supposed to protect public health, but the public health laws have not been updated to reduce oil and chemicals in the environment, limit chemical exposure, or recognize chemical illnesses. Predictably, the illnesses are not responding to multiple rounds of antibiotics; chemical illnesses require special treatment and detoxification. People are seeking health care by qualified occupational and environmental medicine (OEM) doctors outside of the Gulf at high personal expense.
One of the most compelling reasons for Congress to address this is that it was very clear at the outset that the federal government was grossly complacent in a number of areas that led to the BP disaster. Examples abound: unrealistic contingency planning; over-reliance on industrial self-monitoring; regulatory capture; unnecessary exemptions to laws and regulations designed to protect the environment, workers, and the public; and very outdated worker safety and public health laws that are demonstrably inadequate to protect either workers or the public.
Another significant reason is that the government-approved release of dispersants was done as a desperate sacrifice of open ocean and deep sea life, allegedly to protect the coasts. Failing that, dispersant use continued in coastal waters in another desperate attempt to “disappear” the oil that washed ashore.7 The intentional release of dispersants was done without adequate scientific knowledge of impacts to the deep sea, open ocean, and coastal environments – or to people living or recreating at the coast. Thus, the release was the largest chemical experiment in history on a civilian population without their knowledge or consent – and the government was complicit in this draconian experiment.
Given the current situation in the Gulf, there is now an opportunity for bold and compassionate leadership. In the past, penalties and the reopener clause under the Clean Water Act have been limited to environmental restoration. This self-imposed limitation is not adequate for the current scope of the problems created by BP’s disaster and government complacency. Penalties can and should be expanded to include public health and welfare such as is currently allowed under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Recovery Act (CERCLA) for chemical spills.8 Otherwise, there is no remedy for oil spill victims for restoration of public health and welfare under the Clean Water Act.
BP and other responsible parties are liable under the Clean Water Act for penalties that could ultimately exceed $20 billion. Currently, the law requires that Clean Water Act penalties be deposited into the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund and made available for future oil spills.
We are writing to request that penalties paid by BP under the Clean Water Act should instead be directed to fund Gulf Coast restoration, including both the environment and public health. Specifically, we are asking that at least one-third of the penalties be directed to: staffing community health care centers and hospitals in the Gulf with qualified OEM doctors; health care treatment outside or inside the Gulf for Gulf residents; and a region-wide, community-based, minimum 20-year epidemiology study, conducted by Gulf NGOs (non-governmental organizations). Further, we specifically request that public health restoration funds are not to be used for capital construction projects such as construction of health care centers.
Thank you for your consideration.
1/ Riki Ott, Sound Truth and Corporate Myths: the Legacy of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill (Dragonfly Sisters Press, 2004), available online at www.rikiott.com/spillinfo.php
Hannah Rogers-Ganter, Inna Kraner, Nancy Frigo, and Maria Nunez, Community Health/Epidemiology, D.121, Boston College Law School (November 3, 2010),
Jessica Taloney, News 5 Investigates: Testing the Water, WKRG.com (July 18, 2010), http://www.wkrg.com/gulf_oil_spill/article/news-5-investigates-testing-the-water/906545/Jul-18-2010_7-40-pm/
5/ Jerry Cope, No Safe Harbor on Gulf Coast; Human Blood Tests Show Dangerous Levels of Toxic Exposure, HuffingtonPost.com (Sept. 2, 2010), http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jerry-cope/no-safe-harbor-on-gulf-co_b_698338.html
Wilma Subra, Evaluation of the Results of Whole Blood Volatile Solvents Testing, Lower Mississippi Riverkeeper (25 Oct., 2010), http://lmrk.org/issues/bp-s-deep-water-drilling-disaster/evaluation-of-the-results-of-whole-blood-volatile-solvents-testing.html
6/ Riki Ott, BP, Governments Downplay Public Health Risk From Oil and Dispersants, The Huffington Post (July 7, 2010), http://www.huffingtonpost.com/riki-ott/the-big-lie-bp-government_b_638369.html
Riki Ott, Bioremediation or Biohazard? Oil, Dispersants, and Illness in the Gulf, The Huffington Post (September 17, 2010), http://www.huffingtonpost.com/riki-ott/bio-remediation-or-bio-ha_b_720461.html
7/ Tracy Kuhns and Riki Ott, An Open Letter to US EPA Region 6, The Huffington Post (August 27, 2010), http://www.huffingtonpost.com/riki-ott/an-open-letter-to-us-epa_b_697376.html
8/ Christopher Iaquinto, Chemical Dispersant Issues, D.108, Boston College Law School (November 3, 2010), https://wfs.bc.edu/plater/Boston%20College%20Land%20%26%20Envtl%20Law%20Program%20Submission%20to%20Natl%20BP%20Gulf%20Oilspill%20Commission/