Boats Get Sick Too, Shrimpers Tell BP

NEW ORLEANS (CN) – Two new class actions rang in the 3-month anniversary of BP’s catastrophic oil spill. Shrimpers claim that BP hires cleanup workers who use their own boats, and that boats as well as the workers get sick from the toxic fumes, and that the decontamination process, which shrimpers have to do on their own, can ruin their boats, killing their careers and the chance of part-time work on the cleanup. And Oklahoma police claim that their pension plan has been gutted by the stock plunge caused by BP’s reckless conduct.

     In their class action in Orleans Parish Court, shrimpers say their employment, their health and their shrimp boats have all been hurt by BP’s carelessness.
     In the shrimpers’ class action, John Wuntsell and Kelly Blanchard, co-owners of a boat, say BP hire them for its Vessel of Opportunity Program after the oil spell left them unable to fish for a living. They were put on BP’s burn team: they gathered oil to burn and kept watch over its toxic flames.
     The men say their exposure to fumes at the burn site put them in the hospital. Now they fear long-term illness. And, they say, they had to decontaminate their shrimp boat, which is no longer usable – killing their career jobs, and the possibility of short-term work on BP’s oil spill.
     Though it is not alleged in the complaint, oil spill workers on the Gulf Coast say that BP preferably – or only – hires cleanup workers who have their own boats.
     The complaint does allege that despite the toxic nature of the cleanup, BP has been “discouraging the use or respirators or other respiratory protective equipment, without considering the respiratory problems and issues faced by crew members, such as John Wunsell Jr.”
     The men say they were exposed to massive quantities of crude oil, crude oil vapors, dispersants and other gases as well as the vapors and fumes from the burning oil.
     Wuntsell claims that on may 28, as he was captain aboard the ship “Ramie’s Wish,” he “became severely ill with a severe headache, nausea and shortness of breath.” He also suffered chest pain, nose irritation and a severe rise in blood pressure.
     He was taken by helicopter to West Jefferson Medical Center in New Orleans, where he was down and decontaminated before being admitted.
     He is undergoing medical monitoring, which he says will have to continue and will for some time.
     Wuntsell says that he and the rest of the class share a “significantly increased” risk of contracting serious disease, including cancers of the scrotum, esophagus, stomach, lungs, intestines, kidneys, bladder, blood (leukemia), lymph glands, skin, brain, breast and larynx.
     Medical monitoring is conducted to detect early signs of disease. While environmental diseases from toxic exposure are chronic in nature and take years to develop, some diseases can be reversed if detected early, the class says.
     The plaintiffs seeks classwide court-supervised medical monitoring, and more answers about the chemicals in the oil released from BP’s Macondo well, the nature of the chemicals in the dispersants, and the compounds created when the oil mixes with the dispersants.
     Wuntsell and Blanchard add that although they were told that the proper procedure at the end of each shift was to bring the boats inland, to be cleaned of toxic oil and chemicals, neither their boat nor any other shrimp boats owned by the class ever underwent such a procedure shift’s end.
     After working for BP for 3 months near the burn area, the men say, they had to conduct the detoxification process on their own, to remove paint and chemicals from the decks, bow, railings and other equipment.
     The class of shrimpers is represented by Stephen Herman of New Orleans.
     Also Tuesday, in Federal Court, the Oklahoma Police Pension & Retirement System filed a securities class action that claims their retirement benefits have been gutted by BP’s conduct.
     The securities class action claims that while BP has boasted since 2005 that the Gulf of Mexico is a spectacular source of oil, it has “completely failed to disclose that its operations were being conducted in a highly reckless manner, as it lacked any legitimate plan to respond to an oil spill from its drilling activities in the region.”
     “Exacerbating the probability that BP’s inadequate spill response would actually be relied upon to respond to a sizable spill, BP has for years maintained a corporate culture where adherence to safety protocols and environmental laws were ignored in favor of profits.”
     All talk about safety but no action, is the gist of the 47-page complaint, which continues: “BP’s culture of placing profits over the safety of its employees and the protection of the environment led to a 2005 explosion in Texas City, Texas which led to the deaths of 15 people and two oil spills in Alaska in 2006. In both cases, BP pled guilty to criminal violations and subsequently assured investors that safety would be a guiding principle of the Company’s operations. The Company’s public statements routinely detailed the specific steps taken by BP to reform its culture while reducing the possibility that lapses leading to the disaster in Texas City and Alaska would be repeated in the future.”
     The class is represented by Eric Nowak of New Orleans.
     In other oil spill news, while BP is the world’s second-largest oil company, The Wall Street Journal reported that it is the largest supplier of oil to the Pentagon.
     Perhaps even more significant, on the 3-month anniversary of BP’s catastrophe, was that China has surpassed the United States in oil consumption.
     The International Economic Agency, based in Paris, reported that China consumed 2.25 billion tons of oil in 2009, just a bit more than the United States’ 2.17 billion tons. China, whose population is 4 times that of the United States, denied the report, according to the Financial Times.

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