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Nasty Cover-Up Gets Exposed

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Ever since the Deepwater Horizon oil rig disaster occurred on that horrible, twentieth day of April 2010, I have been criticizing the cover-up concerning the true extent of this tragedy.  Sitting here in my tinfoil hat, I felt frustrated that the mainstream media had been facilitating the obfuscation by British Petroleum and the Obama administration in their joint efforts to conceal an ongoing environmental disaster in the Gulf of Corexit.  On July 22 of that year, I wrote a piece entitled, “BP Buys Silence of Expert Witnesses”.  On August 26 of 2010, I expressed my cynicism in a piece entitled “Keeping Americans Dumb”:

As time drags on, it is becoming more apparent that both BP and the federal government are deliberately trying to conceal the extent of the damage caused by the Deepwater Horizon blowout.

I got some good news this week when I learned that the mainstream media are finally beginning to acknowledge the extent of this cover-up.  While reading an essay by Gerri Miller for Forbes, I learned about a new documentary concerning the untold story of the Deepwater Horizon Disaster:  The Big Fix.

Once my enthusiasm was sparked, I began reading all I could find about this new documentary, which was co-produced by Peter Fonda.  The Guardian (at its Environment Blog) provided this useful analysis of the movie:

The Big Fix, by Josh and Rebecca Tickell, re-opens some of the most persistent questions about last year’s oil spill.  How BP was able to exert so much control over the crisis as it unfolded?  What were the long-term health consequences of using a toxic chemical, Corexit, to break up the oil and drive it underwater?

Rebecca Tickell herself had a serious reaction to the chemical after being out on the open water – and as it turned out so did the doctor she consulted in an Alabama beach town.  She still has health problems.

Josh Tickell, who grew up in Louisiana, said the Obama administration’s decision to allow the use of Corexit, which is banned in Britain, was the biggest surprise in the making of the film.

“The most shocking thing to me was the disregard with which the people of the Gulf region were dealt,” Tickell said.

“Specifically I think that there was sort of a turn-a-blind-eye attitude towards the spraying of dispersants to clean up the spill. I don’t think anyone wanted to look too deeply at the consequences.”

Gerri Miller’s article for Forbes provided more insight on what the film revealed about the injuries sustained by people in the local shrimping communities:

Dean Blanchard, whose shrimp processing company was once the largest in the U.S., has seen his supply dwindle to “less than 1 percent of the shrimp we produced before.  We get shrimp with oil in the gills and shrimp with no eyes.  The fish are dead and there are no dolphins swimming around my house.”  He knows five people who worked on cleanup crews who have died, and he suffers from sinus and throat problems.  Former shrimper Margaret Curole‘s healthy 31-year-old son worked two months on the cleanup and became so sick from dispersant exposure that he lost 52 pounds and is now unable to walk without a cane. “Most of the seafood is dead or toxic.  I wouldn’t feed it to my cat,” said her husband Kevin Curole, a fifth-generation shrimper who, like Blanchard, had friends who died from Corexit exposure.  “I used to be a surfer but I won’t go in the water anymore,” he said.  “The last time I did my eyes and lips were burning.”

EcoWatch warned us that the movie can be emotionally upsetting:

When you watch how the the Gulf residents captured in The Big Fix have been affected by Corexit and the spill, beware, it is both heart wrenching and frightening.  When you see Gulf residents driven to tears by this environmental tragedy, you want to cry with them. Rebecca, herself, was seriously sickened by Corexit during their filming in the Gulf.

When you listen to eco-activist, Jean-Michel Cousteau, son of champion of the seas Jacques-Yves Cousteau, state so emotionally in the film, “We’re being lied to,” you realize the truth about the Gulf oil spill is being covered up.

The most informative essay about The Big Fix was written by Jerry Cope for The Huffington Post.  The “official trailer” for the film can be seen here.

Ernest Hardy of LA Weekly emphasized how the film hammered away at the mainstream media complicity in the cover-up:

Josh Tickell, a Louisiana native, had two questions he wanted answered when he set out to make his documentary:  What were we not told by the media in the days and weeks immediately following the April 2010 British Petroleum oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and what haven’t we been told since the story faded from the news cycle?  If The Big Fix had simply tackled those questions, the story uncovered would be maddening:  BP’s repeated flaunting of safety codes; their blatant disregard for the lives of individuals and communities devastated by the spill; collusion among the U.S. government (from local to the White House), the media, and BP to hide the damage and avoid holding anyone accountable.  The film’s scope is staggering, including its detailed outlining of BP’s origins and fingerprints across decades of unrest in Iran.  By doing smart, covert reporting that shames our news media, by interviewing uncensored journalists, by speaking with locals whose health has been destroyed, and by interviewing scientists who haven’t been bought by BP (many have, as the film illustrates), Fix stretches into a mandatory-viewing critique of widespread government corruption, with one of the film’s talking heads remarking, “I don’t have any long-term hope for us [as a country] unless we find a way to control campaign financing.”  And yes, the Koch brothers are major players in the fuckery.

The theme of regulatory capture played a role in Anthony Kaufman’s critique of The Big Fix for The Wall Street Journal’s “online magazine” – Speakeasy:

Tickell says that U.S. politicians, both in the Democratic and Republican parties, are too closely tied to the oil and gas industries to regulate them effectively.  “Even if these people come in with good intentions, and what to do good for their community, in order to achieve that level of leadership, they have to seek money from oil and gas,” he says.

While the film promises to take a crack at BP, Tickell says the company is more held up as a “universal example, in the way that resource extraction companies have a certain set of operating paradigms which have lead us to a situation where we have Gulf oil spills and tar sands.”

I felt that my conspiracy theory concerning this tragedy was validated after reading a review of the movie in AZGreen Magazine:

The Big Fix makes clear that the Deepwater Horizon disaster is far from over.  Filmmakers Josh and Rebecca Tickell (makers of groundbreaking films Fuel and Freedom) courageously shine the spotlight on serious aspects of the BP oil spill that were never addressed by mainstream media.  Central to the story is the corporate deception that guided both media coverage and political action on the environmental damage (and ongoing human health consequences) caused by long-term exposure to Corexit, the highly toxic dispersant that was spewed into the Gulf of Mexico by millions of gallons.   The Big Fix drills deeply beyond media reports to demystify the massive corporate cover-up surrounding the Gulf oil spill, and BP’s egregious disregard for human and environmental health.  The film exposes collusion of oil producers, chemical manufacturers, politicians and their campaign funders that resulted in excessive use of Corexit to mask the significance of the oil, and thereby reduce the penalties paid by BP.

Reading all of this makes me wonder what happened to the people, who were discussed in my July 2010 posting, “NOAA Uses Human Canaries to Test Gulf Fish”.

The movie received a standing ovation at the Cannes Film Festival, as it did in its initial screenings in the United States.  Once audiences have a deeper look at the venal nature of the Obama Administration, it will be interesting to watch for any impact on the President’s approval ratings.


 

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NOAA Uses Human Canaries To Test Gulf Fish

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July 5, 2010

I recently checked in on the website for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration  (NOAA) for the latest update on the Deepwater Horizon oil plume.  The site features a map depicting the “fishery closure area” – a rather huge section of the Gulf of Mexico consisting of over 81,000 square miles — where fishing is prohibited.  I immediately began to wonder whether some of the toxic fish from the fishery closure area might swim outside of their boundary and find their way onto someone’s plate.  Apparently, the folks at NOAA thought of that themselves, so they developed a testing protocol to ascertain whether Gulf fish intended for human consumption might have been contaminated with petrochemicals and/or Corexit – the creepy dispersant that has been banned in Britain, although it has been used extensively in response to the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe.  Corexit 9500, when ingested, has been known to rupture red blood cells and cause internal bleeding.  Here is the Material Safety Data Sheet for Corexit 9500, where you can find this useful tidbit:

HUMAN HAZARD CHARACTERIZATION :  Based on our hazard characterization, the potential human hazard is:  Moderate

What do you think NOAA’s Gulf fish testing protocol involves?  Gas chromatography?  Scanning electron microscopy?  Guess again.  They’re having people sniff the fish to determine whether it has been tainted.  No kidding.  Check it out:

NOAA’s expert seafood assessors are training state personnel to use their sense of smell and taste to detect any unusual odors and flavors in Gulf Coast fish — aromas that could indicate contamination by oil or dispersants from the Deepwater Horizon/BP oil spill.

*   *   *

Using your sense of smell is one of the best methods for determining the safety and acceptability of seafood  — sensory analysis is a commonly used tool in seafood safety and quality inspections.  An essential element of the job of a NOAA seafood inspector is to determine what qualifies as Grade A fish, which means that seafood must have good flavor and odor.

*   *   *

People are trained by exposing them to various kinds and concentrations of odors and flavors.  This process takes time.  Some people, unfortunately, are not trainable — some just don’t have an adequate sense of smell to do this work.  However, most people have a sense that can be trained to detect specific odors and refined for enhanced sensitivity.

*   *   *

The Deepwater Horizon/BP oil spill is on a scale we’ve never seen before, and we can use all the extra hands — and nostrils — we can get.  We are expecting to process tens of thousands of samples in the coming months.

What are sensory testers “sniffing” for?

Sensory testers smell for the distinct scent of oil or chemicals that might differ from the normal odor of fish and shellfish ready for market.  When we get a whiff of oil in a seafood sample, we know that the product is unfit for both human consumption and for commercial sale.

In “harmonization” class, we spike fish samples with set concentrations  of oil specific to the Deepwater Horizon/BP spill, as well as dispersants, to determine how sensitive our testers and trainees are.

Learning to discern an odor or flavor and properly describing it is something that comes from experience.  Some odors or flavors are easily masked by a competing odor or flavor so the training and evaluations need to take place in a controlled setting such as a laboratory.  We train people to not only fine-tune their sense of smell to the oil and dispersants from this particular spill, but also to be able to repeat their sensory abilities and standardize how they describe what they are smelling.

*   *  *

For fish like snapper and grouper, we collect a minimum of six, one-pound samples.  First, the fish are filleted.  Then, a panel of 10 expert assessors will smell each of the raw samples and record the odor.  The samples are then cooked, and the process is repeated so that the experts may smell and taste the fish in its cooked state.

Cooking the product is important for two reasons:  First, it releases aromas that may be less detectable in a raw state.  Second, some of the testers may be more sensitive to the smell of cooked fish versus raw fish.  Either way, smelling both raw and cooked samples assures that our testers can detect the full aromatic possibilities of the fish.

This “sniff testing” struck me as a really stupid idea.  It doesn’t sound reliable at all.  It is based on the presumption that hazardous levels of numerous chemicals — often in combination —  can be detected by the human olfactory sense.  Has NOAA considered that these fish sniffers might be getting exposed to hazardous chemicals at levels in excess of the Threshold Limit Values (TLVs) for these substances?   How many parts per million of the various petrochemicals are the testers ingesting when they sniff this fish on a continuous basis?  Worse yet:  How much do they ingest when they eat the fish?   I would love to hear the opinion from an independent, objective panel of occupational hygienists about this testing protocol.

NOAA’s fish-sniffing project appears to be just another example of how a stupid mistake  (allowing the  Deepwater Horizon to operate in the first place) sets off a chain reaction of even more stupid mistakes.  Let’s hope the people involved with this testing don’t suffer any unhealthful consequences from this activity.  Aside from the risk of adverse physical effects, there is also a good chance that these people signed a release —  exculpating “the usual suspects” from any and all liability arising from injuries sustained while conducting these tests.  No good deed shall go unpunished.



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