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Contract workers from BP load absorbent booms onto a boat before departing from a staging area to clean up oil impacted marshes June 1, 2010 near Venice, Louisiana. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Fishermen who've been hired to do cleanup and containment work in BP's Gulf Coast oil spill have been told they would be fired for using their own respirators or safety equipment that wasn't provided by BP, reported Louisiana Environmental Action Network, a Louisana-based environmental group.
"It appears that, despite the obvious potential for exposure to respiratory toxins, BP does not consider respiratory protection necessary equipment," said Paul Orr, Lower Mississippi Riverkeeper in LEAN's statement. "And even so to prevent the fishermen from using their own respiratory protection if they chose to do so is deeply troubling."
This news comes on the heels of reports last week that ten cleanup workers had to be hospitalized after reporting dizziness, nausea and difficulty breathing. The news prompted the Coast Guard to demand 125 commercial fishing boats participating in containment work to return to shore.
Hundreds of fishermen, already risking their own health and using their own boats to help ferry materials and place containment booms to stem the oil's spread, had won a restraining order earlier in May against BP ordering the company to provide proper haz-mat training and safety gear to workers when it was clear that workers were not receiving either. LEAN had since been providing Tyvek suits, face respirators, nitrile gloves and booties to workers.
Both the crude oil gushing out of the underwater leak and chemical dispersants being sprayed on the surface of the water are highly toxic. Crude oil contains volatile compounds like benzene, toluene and xylene that cause respiratory illness, nausea and dizziness, all symptoms that workers reported. The chemical dispersants cause similar symptoms. Over the long term, exposure to these chemicals has been shown to lead to brain damage and leukemia.