New BP Data Show 20% of Gulf Spill Responders Exposed to Chemical That Sickened Valdez Workers

Saturday, July 10, 2010
By Paul Martin

By ELANA SCHOR
NYTimes.com
July 9, 2010

In an under-the-radar release of new test results for its Gulf of Mexico oil spill workers, BP PLC is reporting potentially hazardous exposures to a now-discontinued dispersant chemical — a substance blamed for contributing to chronic health problems after the Exxon Valdez cleanup — among more than 20 percent of offshore responders.

BP’s new summary of chemical testing, posted to its website this week after a nearly monthlong absence of new data, also makes notable revisions to the company’s public characterization of the health risks facing Gulf workers. The oil giant now describes the government as a partner in developing the program for monitoring cleanup crews.

In a June 9 report on worker test results, BP confidently asserted that the health hazards of exposure to both dispersant chemicals and the components of leaking crude “are very low.” In its latest summary, BP replaced those three words with an assurance that health risks “have been carefully considered in the selection of the various methods employed in addressing its spill.”

The new BP summary, including results up to June 29, show a broad majority of workers testing below exposure limits set by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).

But the Valdez-linked chemical 2-butoxyethanol was detected at levels up to 10 parts per million (ppm) in more than 20 percent of offshore responders and 15 percent of those near shore. The NIOSH standard for 2-butoxyethanol, which lacks the force of law but is considered more health-protective than the higher OSHA limit, is 5 ppm.

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