Wednesday, July 28, 2010

BP's unwitting allies

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Ignorance kills.

When you're ignorant, you don't have options. You're an easy mark, because you lack power and, oftentimes, because you're too ignorant to know you're being played.

Or if you are savvy enough to know you're being played, what are you going to do about it?

Say you're a fisherman in Louisiana. You may or may not have much education -- and being that it's Louisiana we're talking about, chances are, not. All you've done is fish. All your daddy has done is fish. All your family has done for a hundred years or more is fish.

You have no options, because other options --
at least in many cases -- never have occurred to you. School, in all likelihood, wasn't a priority for you, just like it wasn't a priority for your daddy, or your daddy's daddy, or for the whole dying culture down there, for Pete's sake.

Same deal for all the other workers whose best option in life right now is to work cleanup for BP, sopping up or skimming up a toxic soup of crude oil and chemical dispersant that has a nasty habit of exploding the cells of mammals and fish.

PEOPLE on the Gulf Coast = mammals. For some reason, I felt the need to make that clear.

From the Facing South online magazine:
Today, 27,000 workers in the BP-run Gulf cleanup effort may still be in danger. Some are falling sick, and the long-term effects of chemical exposure for workers and residents are yet unknown.

Workers lack power on the job to demand better safety enforcement. They fear company retaliation if they speak out and are wary of government regulators who have kept BP in the driver's seat.

BP carries a history of putting profit before worker safety. A 2005 refinery explosion in Texas City, Texas, killed 15 and injured another 108 workers. The Chemical Safety Board investigation resulted in a 341-page report stating that BP knew of "significant safety problems at the Texas City refinery and at 34 other BP business units around the world" months before the explosion.

One internal BP memo made a cost-benefit analysis of types of housing construction on site in terms of the children's story "The Three Little Pigs." "Brick" houses -- blast-resistant ones -- might save a few "piggies," but was it worth the initial investment?

BP decided not, costing several workers' lives. Federal officials found more than 700 safety violations at Texas City and fined BP more than $87 million in 2009, but the corporation has refused to pay.


Now workers in the cleanup effort face similar challenges to those Jason Anderson and his 10 slain co-workers woke up to each morning. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) policy analyst Hugh Kaufman says workers are being exposed to a "toxic soup," and face dangers like those in the Exxon Valdez, Love Canal, and 9/11 cleanups.

The 1989 Exxon Valdez experience should have taught us about the health fallouts of working with oil and chemical cleaners, but tests to determine long-term effects on those workers were never done, by either the company or OSHA. It appears they have faced health problems far beyond any warnings given by company or government officials while the work was going on.

Veterans of that cleanup, such as supervisor Merle Savage, reported coming down with the same flu-like symptoms during their work that Gulf cleanup workers are now experiencing. Savage, along with an estimated 3,000 cleanup workers, has lived 20 years with chronic respiratory illness and neurological damage.

A 2002 study from a Spanish oil spill showed that cleanup workers and community members have increased risk of cancer and that workers with long-term exposure to crude oil can face permanent DNA damage.

So far, Louisiana has records of 128 cleanup workers becoming sick with flu-like symptoms, including dizziness, nausea, and headaches, after exposure to chemicals on the job. BP recorded 21 short hospitalizations. When seven workers from different boats were hospitalized with chemical exposure symptoms, BP executives dismissed the illnesses as food poisoning.

BP bosses have told workers to report to BP clinics only and not to visit public hospitals, where their numbers can be recorded by the state.

Surgeon General Regina Benjamin has said that without the benefit of studies, or even knowing the chemical makeup of the Corexit 9500 dispersant (which its manufacturer calls a "trade secret"), scientific opinion is divided on long-term health impacts to the region.

Workers in the Gulf are not receiving proper training or equipment, says Mark Catlin, an occupational hygienist who was sent to the Exxon Valdez site by the Laborers union.

BP has said it will provide workers with respirators and proper training if necessary, but the company has yet to deem the situation a health risk for workers. The Louisiana Environmental Action Network (LEAN) provided respirators to some workers directly, but BP forbade them to use them.
THE TENDENCY of anybody looking for a good story, one that engages the heart as well as the mind in such situations, is to spend much time romanticizing the poor and the vulnerable. The majority of the media coverage of the BPocalypse follows this well-trod path into the morass of sentimentality and, ultimately, cognitive dissonance when the cold, hard (and complicated) facts of life break through the spin and screw up the narrative.

The facts of the matter is that many of the people we're supposed to be feeling sorry are victims of not only BP, but also of accidents of birth, the deficiencies of a culture that too often hasn't valued all the things that immunize a people against victimhood, and a crapload of poor choices accumulating throughout one's lifetime.

If you're in Grand Isle, La., faced with a royal screwing by a multinational oil company -- and, for that matter, one's own government -- it's all too easy to just take it out on the "animals," which is postmodern Southern-speak for "n***ers." Who happen to be cleaning up the multinational oil company's hazardous waste off your beach and out of your marshes.

And if you're one of those cleanup workers -- poorly paid, without respirators and working under ATV-riding "overseers" in a setup that looks so much like a fast-forward of what slavery might look like had the South won the Civil War -- you further screw up a good narrative by getting shitfaced in a titty bar and treating a bunch of strippers like the pieces of meat you know yourself to be. At least in the eyes of your "betters."

Who, you can be assured, will collect their piece of the pie
(and yours, too) no matter how much they screw up the lives of others by hook . . . and by crook. Why? Because they can, that's why.

THE POOR . . . the "victims," who resist all attempts at romanticizing their plight much more successfully than they fend off humiliation and depredation by them that's got, will not fare well here. Neither will a state like Louisiana, home to so many of the poor, and likewise so much more adept at resisting all attempts to romanticize its desperate plight than it is at fending off humiliation, depredation and marginalization at the hands of Corporate America and the government it has bought and paid for.

Knowledge is power.

Culture is destiny.

The Gret Stet is screwed.

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