Unchartered Waters: The Spill and Human Health

Let our journalists help you make sense of the noise: Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter and get a recap of news that matters.

Fisherman George Jackson fell ill in May while working to clean up the oil spill for BP. Now he’s waiting for approval from his doctor to get back to work.

“My eyes started burning and I started getting dizzy, dizziness and nausea,” he said.

According to the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals, more than 100 people have complained about health problems they believe were caused by the oil spill.

“The headaches, the dizziness, the shortness of breath… these are common symptoms we would see around dispersants, common symptoms we would see around the burning of crude or any hydrocarbon for that matter,” said Damon Dietrich, a doctor at the West Jefferson Medical Center in Louisiana where seven clean up workers were decontaminated in a hazmat unit before being admitted to the ER.

The health and safety of the more than 20,000 clean up workers is a growing concern, given the amount of oil and the length of time workers are exposed to it. Fresh crude oil contains volatile organic compounds, some of which are known to cause cancer.

How serious are the short- and long-term health risks for clean-up workers? How should they be protected? And who is ultimately in charge of their safety?

Need to Know correspondent Dr. Emily Senay talks to BP, leading scientists and Louisiana state health officials to find answers.

But with little hard science about the long-term health effects on spill workers—and dispersants used in unprecedented quantities—there are more questions than answers.

This piece was produced by Need to Know as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

More MotherJones reporting on Climate Desk

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest