Gulf Oil Spill: Fishermen Say They Are Sick from Cleanup; ABC News Investigation


Most worrisome to experts today is the fact that the government did no offshore testing for small, dangerous particles called particulate matter, and if BP has done any such testing, it has not published its findings.

In the first month after the accident, every government agency was relying on BP for offshore air quality testing. It turns out data released by BP one month after the spill reveals BP apparently only tested for two oil contaminants offshore. And small particles or oil aerosols apparently were not tested.

"We do know from previous studies that these kinds of oil aerosols can cause a powerful inflammatory reaction in the airways and can make people very sick," Dr. Solomon told ABC News.

Offshore Testing Timeline, Date Started:

Deepwater Horizon Accident: April 20

BP: April 28

EPA: May 17

OSHA: May 24

Coast Guard: June 14

ABC News confronted Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson hoping to find answers. When asked whether the EPA should have taken more of a lead in testing the air offshore in the days after the spill instead of five weeks later, Jackson disagreed.

"I don't think so," she said. "[The] EPA is not an expert in occupational safety and worker safety, that's OSHA's job." In fact, Administrator Jackson is correct. The EPA does not have jurisdiction over air quality on the Gulf of Mexico.

OSHA declined ABC News' numerous interview requests and BP's chief operations for Gulf cleanup, Mike Utsler, said he didn't know whether anyone had become ill due to the spill.

Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen, who led the cleanup effort in the gulf, says that if it happened again he would be more judicious in employing Vessels of Opportunity.

"I think I'd be very judicious in employing Vessels of Opportunity in the future," Allen said. "I think they can be used effectively, but I think we need to understand the environment they're operating in, the impact on the people and the impact on the boats and I would say do we have this right before we take a step forward."

One-year later and with nowhere to turn in the gulf, these fishermen simply wait to see if they'll be among those contacted to be part of the government's study on cleanup workers.

But for now these fishermen and their families move forward with only each other to count on, in search of closure and afraid of what the future may bring.

"What I would like the outcome to be is for us to be told the truth," said Burnett. "Just tell us what happened to us … and then we can move on, seek whatever we have to do to try to get better. Move on with our lives."

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