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Sunday, December 10, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Alarming Info in Oil Spill Toxicology Report

NEW ORLEANS (CN) - A toxicology report relating to a sick oil spill cleanup worker claims the operation in which BP and the Coast Guard set the massive slick on fire was characterized by secrecy, including a threat to shoot down a news helicopter. The report also says most of the oiled birds found during the spill were euthanized rather than rehabilitated.

Toxicologist Patricia Williams' report relates to Malcolm Coco, who worked for BP from May 14 to Sept. 2, 2010 as a Boat Igniter Operator, lighting the gigantic slick of oil from BP's failed Macondo well on fire. Williams, who has a Ph.D. in anatomy from the Tulane University School of Medicine, wrote the report for Coco's attorney, Daniel Becnel Jr., on letterhead of Environmental Toxicology Experts, of Metairie.

According to the 13-page report, while Coco was lighting the crude oil on fire, "planes were flying overhead dropping dispersants which rained down on him and the other workers. ... The entire operation was overseen by the U.S. Coast Guard from the ship. There was much secrecy. He had a radio to maintain communication with the ship and overheard voices telling a news helicopter to leave the area or the helicopter would be downed. He was told not to take pictures. However, he and the other workers did take pictures. These pictures verify Mr. Coco's description of the extensive black clouds rising up from the ignited surface crude oil. ...

"After two weeks on the burn team, he was transferred, but BP Oil kept his boat and paid for the use of the boat. He believes that they did not keep him on the burn unit because he was taking pictures. His boat was never returned to him. He had conversations with the U.S. Coast Guard about his boat. He had a contract that required BP to clean and repair his boat.

"After working with the burn team for two weeks, he worked with the federal wildlife agents looking for birds covered in oil. He rescued pelicans, wrens, and terns that were covered with oil. He witnessed a lot of oil in the passes of the southern areas around Venice. They would net the birds and cage them for transport to a station in Venice. He did handle the oil-coated birds. Some of the birds were cleaned, but most were euthanized. The birds were transported to Fort Jackson. The U.S. Wildlife and Fisheries agents had a list of fines that BP Oil would be billed for dead, rescued, or euthanized birds. Finding a dead oily pelican was worth $25,000, rehabilitation of an oily pelican was worth $18,000. A wren was worth $4,000 or $5,000."

The report states: "workers involved in the task of cleaning up the oil have been exposed to ... potentially toxic substances, which mainly enter the human organism either by inhalation or via the skin and mucous membranes. The digestive tract is another route that should be taken into account. ...

"Acute exposure to volatile organic compounds (VOCs) may cause neurological symptoms, such as headache, nausea, dizziness, and sleepiness. It can cause breathing difficulties, nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain."

Williams' report says the International Agency for Research on Cancer categorizes some VOCs in crude oil as carcinogenic in humans.

The April 20, 2010 explosion of BP's Deepwater Horizon rig unleashed the worst oil spill in U.S. history and killed 11 men.

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