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New Evidence Links BP to Health Crisis in the Gulf

Severe headaches, nausea, respiratory problems, burning eyes and throat, earache and chest pains -- and that's just the beginning.

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But these fishermen also had another prime incentive to get those BP jobs.

"They desperately wanted those cleanup jobs to protect their natural resource, their estuaries and marshes," Subra noted. "So they thought that if they got out there to put out enough booms and do enough skimming that they would protect it enough that the resource would be there."

As a consequence, they've been made ill but most are too frightened to speak out because they're afraid to lose their jobs.

"Their wives spoke out early on and they were told if their wives continued to speak out they'd be fired, or if they spoke they'd be fired," said Subra, adding that, for this reason, LEAN had stepped in to help voice the concerns of the fishing community.

According to all the reports she's received, she confirmed that BP officials and BP contractors, not federal officials, leveled these threats against cleanup workers attempting to wear adequate protective gear or speaking publicly about the related health effects.

While BP's cleanup in the Gulf is winding down and many workers have already been laid off, a lot of them are still out there and this practice continues today, said Subra.

"So right now, the ones that are continuing to work out there are provided gloves and bootie covers or feet covers and that's it. No adequate protective gear, no respirators."

She added, "And they're just getting full of oil as they work. Routes of exposure are inhalation, ingestion and skin contact. And they're exposed to that every single day, the whole time they're out there."

But some coastal residents not involved in the cleanup have also been sickened by the oil and dispersants.

Even before the slick began moving inshore, Subra explained, many people were exposed to the aerosol formed when the crude was pushed up into the air by high winds and heavy seas.

As the dispersants began being applied, they mixed into this aerosol as well, followed then by the toxic brew of the controlled burns of oil on the water, all of which drifted to populations along the coast.

"A huge number of people on the coast were exposed to this aerosol," Subra said, adding that this issue has received even less attention than the health impact to the cleanup workers.

A Crisis Unfolds, Little Relief in Sight

Subra, who has worked on these types of issues for 40 years on behalf of communities and victims, is appalled at the lack of health care sickened cleanup workers and coastal residents have received so far.

She noted the irony that the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) has begun a comprehensive health-tracking program that plans to monitor the related health impacts from the spill and cleanup of 75,000 workers and volunteers.

Aside from the fact that this study will take a very long time to complete and thus data will not be readily available, it does not address the immediate or even longer-term health needs of those who have been sickened.

"The program itself is not going to provide medical care," explained Subra. "It's going to provide long-term monitoring of these people who are sick, but not 'here's a doctor you can go to deal with this situation.'"

What's more, the study will not include the large swath of residents along the coast who were affected by the toxic aerosol but who weren't involved in the cleanup.

"That population will not be monitored at all by the NIEHS study," she said.