Two-year-old Gavin Tillman of Pass Christian, Mississippi, has been diagnosed with severe infections. His temperature has reached more than 39°C since September 15, and his health continues to worsen.
His parents, some doctors and environmental consultants believe the symptoms are linked to exposure to chemicals spilt by BP during its Gulf of Mexico oil disaster.
Gavin’s father, mother and cousin also have serious health problems. Many others living along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico have experienced their symptoms.
Injected with at least 4.9 million barrels of oil during the BP oil disaster of last summer, the Gulf has suffered the largest accidental marine oil spill in history.
Compounding the problem, BP has admitted to using at least 1.9 million gallons of widely banned toxic dispersants, which, according to chemist Bob Naman, create an even more toxic substance when mixed with crude oil.
Dispersed, weathered oil continues to flow ashore daily.
Naman, who works at the Analytical Chemical Testing Lab in Mobile, Alabama, has carried out studies to search for the chemical markers of the dispersants BP used to both sink and break up its oil.
Naman said that poly-aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) from this toxic mix are making people sick. PAHs contain compounds that cause cancer, mutations and damage fetuses.
Fisherfolk across the four states most heavily affected by the oil disaster — Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida — have reported seeing BP spray dispersants from aircraft and boats.
Naman said: “The dispersants are being added to the water and are causing chemical compounds to become water soluble, which is then given off into the air, so it is coming down as rain, in addition to being in the water and beaches of these areas of the Gulf.
“I’m scared of what I'm finding. These cyclic compounds intermingle with the Corexit [dispersants] and generate other cyclic compounds that aren’t good.
“Many have double bonds, and many are on the EPA’s [Environmental Protection Agency] danger list. This is an unprecedented environmental catastrophe.”
Commercial fisher and Vietnam War veteran Donny Matsler lives in Dauphin Island, Alabama. He said he inhaled toxic chemicals associated with BP’s dispersants.
“I was with my friend Albert, and we were both slammed with exposure”, Matsler said on August 5. “We both saw the clumps of white bubbles on the surface that we know come from the dispersed oil.
“I started to vomit brown, and my pee was brown also. I kept that up all day. Then I had a night of sweating and non-stop diarrhoea unlike anything I’ve ever experienced.”
He was also suffering from skin rashes, nausea and a sore throat.
Local television station WKRG News 5 took a water sample from his area to test for dispersants. The sample literally exploded when it was mixed with an organic solvent separating the oil from the water.
Naman, who analysed the sample, said: “We think that it most likely happened due to the presence of either methanol or methane gas or the presence of the dispersant Corexit.”
“I'm still feeling terrible”, Matsler told me. “I’m about to go to the doctor again right now. I'm short of breath, the diarrhoea has been real bad, I still have discoloration in my urine, and the day before yesterday, I was coughing up white foam with brown spots in it.”
Hugh Kaufman, an EPA whistleblower and analyst, said this of the effects of the dispersants: “We have dolphins that are hemorrhaging. People who work near it are hemorrhaging internally. And that’s what dispersants are supposed to do.”
By the middle of last summer, the Alabama Department of Public Health said that 56 people in Mobile and Baldwin counties had sought treatment for what they believed were oil disaster-related illnesses.
Dr. Riki Ott, a toxicologist, marine biologist and Exxon Valdez survivor, told me: “The dispersants used in BP’s draconian experiment contain solvents such as petroleum distillates and 2-butoxyethanol.
“Solvents dissolve oil, grease, and rubber. Spill responders have told me that the hard rubber impellors in their engines and the soft rubber bushings on their outboard motor pumps are falling apart and need frequent replacement.
“Given this evidence, it should be no surprise that solvents are also notoriously toxic to people, something the medical community has long known.
“For example, 2-butoxyethanol in Corexit is a human health hazard substance; it is a fetal toxin and it breaks down blood cells, causing blood and kidney disorders.”
A growing number of illnesses have been found across the Gulf Coast.
Denise Rednour had been walking on Long Beach, Mississippi, nearly every day since the disaster began on April 20.
“I’ve had health problems since the middle of July”, she said. “At the end of August, I came home from walking on the beach and for four days had bloody, mucus-filled diarrhea, dry heaves and blood running out of my ear.”
Dean Blanchard, who runs a seafood distribution business in Grand Isle, Louisiana, had similar symptoms.
“They [BP] are using us like lab rats”, he said. “I’m thinking of moving to Costa Rica. When I leave here I feel better. When I come back I feel bad again. Feeling tired, coughing, sore throat, burning eyes, headaches, just like everyone around here feels.”
Lorrie Williams of Ocean Springs said her son’s asthma had “gotten exponentially worse since BP released all their oil and dispersants into the Gulf”.
“A plane flew over our house recently and sprayed what I believe are dispersants”, she said. “Fine mist covered everything, and it smelled like pool chemicals. Noah is waking up unable to breathe, and my husband has head and chest congestion and burning eyes.”
When Lorrie’s family left the area for a vacation, they immediately felt better. But upon coming home, their symptoms returned.
Wilma Subra, a chemist in New Iberia, Louisiana, tested the blood of eight BP clean-up workers and residents in Alabama and Florida.
“Ethylbenzene, m,p-Xylene and Hexane are volatile organic chemicals that are present in the BP crude oil”, Subra said.
“The blood of all three females and five males had chemicals that are found in the BP crude oil. The acute impacts of these chemicals include nose and throat irritation, coughing, wheezing, lung irritation, dizziness, light-headedness, nausea and vomiting.”
Subra said there had been long enough exposure to create chronic impacts, that include “liver damage, kidney damage and damage to the nervous system. So the presence of these chemicals in the blood indicates exposure.”
Testing by Subra revealed PAHs present “in coastal soil sediment, wetlands and in crab, oyster and mussel tissues”.
Trisha Springstead is a 36-year-old registered nurse who lives and works in Brooksville, Florida. “What I’m seeing are toxified people who have been chemically poisoned”, she said.
“They have sore throats, respiratory problems, neurological problems, lesions, sores, and ulcers.
“These people have been poisoned and they are dying. Drugs aren’t going to help these people. They need to be detoxed.”
Naman said there were brownish, rubbery tar balls that are a product of BP’s dispersed oil that continue to wash up on beaches across the Gulf.
He said: “Those are the ones kids are picking up and playing with and breathing the fumes that come off them when you crush them in your hand.
“These will affect anyone who comes into contact with it. You could have an open wound and this goes straight in.
“Women have a lot more open mucus membranes and they are getting sicker than men. They are bleeding from their vagina and anus. Small kids are bleeding from their ears. This stuff is busting red blood cells.”
Ott said: “People are already dying from this … I’m dealing with three autopsies’ right now. I don’t think we’ll have to wait years to see the effects like we did in Alaska, people are dropping dead now.
“I know two people who are down to 4.75% of their lung capacity, their heart has enlarged to make up for that, and their esophagus is disintegrating, and one of them is a 16-year-old boy who went swimming in the Gulf.”
[This article was abridged from Dahr Jamail’s Dispatches.]