Thursday, July 22, 2010

'People Are Getting Sick,' Cleanup Worker Says

Former Oil Spill Worker Says He Had No Protective Gear

GULF OF MEXICO, La. -- The work to cleanup the millions of gallons of oil in the Gulf can be hazardous, and one spill worker told WDSU that he has witnessed illness, injury and unsafe working conditions.

Jarred Bourgeois is the engineer on a crew ship that carries personnel and supplies to workers out in the Gulf, a far different job than he had when the spill first started.

"I was working for another company. I just started over here. I was working on the oil spill, pulling the booms. Very tedious. Very boring. Not the best job in the world, but it pays the bills," Bourgeois said.

Bourgeois was assigned to a boat with three others, working directly with oil removal. He said they were on the water for weeks.

"We were out there about 40-something days," he said.

At the time, he worked near the Deepwater Horizon site where the crude oil was the thickest and the freshest. He said conditions on the water were particularly hazardous then.

"It's a lot thicker then you see on TV. It's a lot worse. It's everywhere. The smell is outrageous. People (were) getting sick all the time. They don't really tell you what it is, why people are getting sick, but they were MedEvac-ing people left and right," Bourgeois said. "I have personally dealt with headaches and feeling bad. It's a lot different then what you see sitting at the house."

When asked whether it was fumes from the oil or the dispersants that were making people sick, Bourgeois said he couldn't be sure.

"I wasn't too much around the dispersants to tell the difference, but it could have been one or the other," he said.

From late April to mid-July, the federal government reports 571 incidents of illness and 757 injuries related to oil spill containment and cleanup work. The most common problems, according to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration, were minor accidents or heat-related illnesses.

But the official log of medical events includes numerous reports of dizziness, faintings and concerns about exposure to chemical vapors, with dozens of workers taken to the hospital for evaluation or treatment.

"I don't know what the oil can do to you and all. I know we worked out there for 30-something days before they even let us know that we had to have protective equipment," Bourgeois said. "And when they did let us know, it was pretty extensive equipment, respirators, and we worked 30-something days with nothing."

Bourgeois said there were a lot of unknowns when it comes to working directly with the oil. He called conditions at his old job unsettling, as the company scrambled to deal with an unprecedented spill.


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