Please Note: " Most exposure standards for toxins are written based on an eight-hour per day, 40 hour per week work schedule. The Alaska Health Project noted that spill workers were on the job 12 hours a day or more for two weeks solid. Exxon did not adjust allowable exposures to reflect the longer exposures, the nonprofit noted."
...the monitoring Exxon did that summer was inadequate. For example, the company didn't test for excessive levels of Limonene, the active ingredient in De-Solv-it, the chemical cleaner used to wash workers' raincoats, boots and gloves. Limonene can cause skin inflammation and a type of asthma linked to chemical exposure, he said.
"Exxon and Veco people ... apparently regard it as not even worth thinking about, and so there are no measurements of the exposures to these materials," he said. "That's a major failure. This is not benign material." Teitelbaum, Denver toxicologist
|Garry Stubblefield of Granbury, Texas, speaks in short
phrases between gasps for air. His doctors have told him his lungs have
been damaged by chemical exposure and he is at risk of developing
Betty Carey of Ranchester, Wyo., suffers from memory loss. She has had a tumor removed from her neck and several odd lumps removed from her legs.
When Leona McJemsey of Soldotna had her tonsils removed at 54, a biopsy revealed she had cancer. Until she died in 1996, seven years later, she was hypersensitive to fragrances and chemical odors and suffered from hives and dizziness.
Though they never met, all three shared a single place in time: Prince William Sound in the summer of 1989, when they helped mop up Exxon's oil from the beaches. Until then, all three have said, they were healthy
Ron Smith of Soldotna blames his headaches, nausea and memory loss on work he did that summer. He just had a pre-cancerous tumor removed from his lower intestine.
- all quotes from Anchorage Daily News, May 13, 1999
They have doctors who have concluded they are right. But Exxon's medical experts disagree.
But despite warnings by a team of public health experts that summer that workers may be at risk from exposure to toxic or hazardous materials, nobody has studied the effects of the cleanup on workers. Internal company memos and government reports show Exxon rebuffed efforts by the health officials who tried. And to this day, only Exxon has the detailed medical records that could be used for epidemiological studies.
"Frankly, in all the litigation, and through all the controversy after the spill, nobody has ever asked the question: What about human health?" said Dr. John Middaugh, Alaska state epidemiologist.
milestone article about workers
Exxon and its main cleanup contractor, Anchorage-based Veco,
acknowledged that summer that many workers got sick. But Exxon said
then, and in the prepared statement now, that the illnesses were "a
flu-like upper respiratory illness" that spread because of crowded
living conditions on the barges where workers bunked. The illness became
known as the "Valdez Crud" and Exxon said it spread even to
lawyers and claims adjusters who had little direct exposure to the
cleanup and its materials.
Exxon never revealed, and government officials never discovered, precisely how widespread the problem was. But years later, Exxon's internal medical reports showed up in court records. They revealed that an unspecified number of the 11,000 workers made 5,600 clinic visits for upper respiratory illnesses that summer. The source of the illness was never identified.
Veco attorney Jack Miller said he has seen no evidence to suggest workers were overexposed to hazardous substances during the cleanup.
But some workers are suspicious. In the years since the spill, their lawsuits have raised questions about whether the "Valdez Crud" was the flu or a reaction to toxins. They question the amount of hazardous materials training they got and whether they had enough protection from the oil mist they breathed and the weathered crude and the chemical cleaners they handled.
Signs of Chemical Overexposure *
Trying to Help Workers....
Cleanup work was under way in late April when the Alaska Department of Labor invited the government's National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health and the Laborers International Union to observe conditions.
The union team, with funding from the government's National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, criticized the operation and expressed concerns about workers inhaling, ingesting or touching crude oil and inadequate training. Calling the crude "toxic and hazardous," the group raised the possibility that workers were at risk for skin and other disorders, including cancer.
The Laborers team proposed that workers be tracked for chemical exposure. Led by Eula Bingham, assistant Labor secretary for occupational safety and health in the Carter administration and a professor at the University of Cincinnati's College of Medicine, the team wrote a plan for the study.
Bingham's group visited the Sound once, but found it difficult to conduct an independent evaluation. Getting to the remote worksites required working through Exxon, which controlled logistics, and Exxon wasn't cooperating, she said.
"I must say, we got the runaround. I am sure (Exxon) didn't want me around," Bingham said in a telephone interview. "It has always troubled me over the years."
The U.S. Public Health Service, which visited the Sound about the same time, issued a report that disagreed with the Laborers and said toxic exposure threats weren't nearly as high as the union suggested.
Generally, the most toxic elements of crude oil are benzene, toluene and polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs, a group of over 100 compounds, some of which can cause cancer. Benzene and toluene evaporate quickly, and posed the greatest danger up to 72 hours after the spill, long before the massive cleanup got started.
That left the question whether the remaining PAHs in the crude oil and the cleaners and solvents - like De-Solv-It, Corexit and Inipol EAP 22 - presented any danger to workers, particularly in combination, and if the yellow slickers and rubber gloves and boots the workers used offered enough protection.
After much debate among government and Exxon officials, and at the labor union's urging, the state Department of Labor determined the cleanup was a hazardous waste operation. Bingham's group argued that OSHA standards required that workers get 24 to 40 hours of training.
Carl Reller, an environmental consultant now living in New Zealand who was then Veco's manager of environmental affairs, said in an interview that he was at the meeting where state officials asked Exxon how it would comply. Exxon came back with a proposal for four hours of training for each worker, Reller said. The state accepted that.
"The argument against the 40-hour standard was that the oil had lost most of its toxicity in the first several days following the spill," according to the final report written in 1992 by the Coast Guard's Federal On Scene Coordinator's office.
Only a portion of the abbreviated four-hour course was devoted to handling crude and chemicals. It also included bear-country safety and hypothermia prevention. Three NIOSH investigators later sat through the training classes and deemed them "adequate."
Throughout the summer, NIOSH and an Exxon contractor conducted tests to check levels of worker exposure to toxic substances.
NIOSH officials made three trips to Alaska that year and took air samples. They detected benzene in 12 of 33 samples, but the levels were too low to cause alarm, according to the agency's report. The agency also tested for nitrogen dioxide, a byproduct of diesel fuel combustion, and found elevated levels. The agency concluded that some workers probably were exposed to excessive diesel fumes, which contain toxic chemicals and carcinogens.
Exxon hired Med-Tox Associates Inc. of Anaheim, Calif., for its own sampling. The bulk of their data was not released to the public, though some information trickled out four years later in the lawsuits. Those court records show the company conducted 1,600 tests for light hydrocarbons like benzene, but only 30 for the more longer-lasting PAHs and another 114 for oil mist.
The massive assault against spilled oil barely had begun when workers complained of illness. They had flu-like symptoms: coughing, headaches, dizziness and runny noses.
"At night, in the bunks, it was like a TB ward," said Carey, who had only been on the job a couple days when she started having headaches and coughs. "Everyone was coughing."
"My lungs were really irritated," she said. "Then towards the end of it, I had like a joint pain in my hip." Within two weeks, Carey was airlifted out, her work stint over.
Exxon's chief of medicine that summer, Dr. Kenneth Gould, said in a speech that fall to oil industry officials that the illnesses didn't respond to antibiotics. "No single set of antibiotics seemed efficacious," he said.
State and federal health officials heard about the sickness and discussed looking into it. In its final report in 1991, NIOSH officials wrote that state health workers planned to look closer but they had the same problems as other health experts: They couldn't get Exxon to release its clinical data, and Exxon controlled access to workers at remote locations.
Read the full article for more information
"Workers need to tell the doctors they see that they were exposed to chemicals."
Renown LA Times article 11-5-01
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