Beasley Allen attorneys are representing at least 200 clients who claim they fell ill after being exposed to oil from BP’s Deepwater Horizon spill and the chemical dispersants cleanup crews dumped into the Gulf of Mexico in an effort to break down the sludgy crude. Of these plaintiffs, three spoke recently with the Montgomery Advertiser about the hardships they continue to face more than a year after the oil disaster first erupted.
Gary Stewart of Mobile captained a boat for a company that participated in BP’s Vessels of Opportunity Program, which mobilized fishing and charter boats put out of work by the spill and converted them into oil cleanup and containment craft.
Mr. Stewart lived and worked aboard the boat for more than a month as workers spread the chemical oil dispersant Corexit. BP never offered him a respirator and he didn’t know the noxious Corexit fumes that filled the boat day in and day out would have such a devastating effect on his health.
Headaches and watery eyes eventually became sores on his skin, numbness in his hands and feet, gastrointestinal ailments, shortness of breath, and other problems. The severity of his health problems have led to a financial crisis for the uninsured 39-year-old father of two girls, who can only treat his symptoms with Tylenol and Advil.
Ricky Thrasher, 50, of Orange Beach, Ala., found an opportunity to help on a shrimping boat that BP employed to lay oil boom. After just 6 days on the Gulf, however, Mr. Thrasher was so sick that he had to be evacuated. Like Stewart, Mr. Thrasher was exposed to oil dispersants while working in the Gulf and developed a headache on day one. His health steadily declined.
Severe gastrointestinal problems, night sweats, insomnia, anxiety attacks, dramatic mood swings, and memory loss continue to plague Mr. Thrasher months after his work in the Gulf. “I’m physically losing my ability to think like I used to. I need help,” Mr. Thrasher told the Montgomery Advertiser.
He has been hospitalized three times and sought help nearly a dozen times since his days on the shrimping boat, but has no insurance and cannot afford the medical care he needs. He begged BP for help and has filed a claim with the Gulf Coast Claims Facility (GCCF), but he has not received help and his health continues to deteriorate.
Unlike Mr. Stewart and Mr. Thrasher, Foley resident Roby Hill did not work out in the Gulf as part of a cleanup crew. She worked in the tourism industry and spent many hours on the beaches of Gulf Shores. When the oil started washing ashore there, hazmat cleanup crews descended on the beach while children played in the water. Kids would bring her tar balls and she often witnessed boats and airplanes spraying the Gulf with unknown substances.
One day Ms. Hill passed out on the beach. She soon developed stomach aches and blood in her urine and told the Montgomery Advertiser that “it felt like I was dying.” Today, she requires several thousands of dollars in medical care to help her treat the respiratory problems, skin irritations, head aches, dizziness, and other ailments she has since developed. But her husband’s insurance carrier dropped her in January citing a pre-existing condition, leaving her without medical care and bad credit.
Faced with debilitating health problems and financial ruin, hundreds of Alabamians and other Gulf Coast residents have found little or no relief in the $20-billion Gulf Coast Claims Facility that BP set up last year at the behest of the federal government.
“We started representing fishermen and businesses, then we started finding out that many of our fishermen were getting sick,” Beasley Allen attorney Parker Miller told the Montgomery Advertiser. Mr. Miller called the GCCF’s assertion, reported by the Associated Press, that it had not received any claims from cleanup crew members suffering from oil and dispersant-related illnesses “bogus.”
Beasley Allen is representing Mr. Stewart, Mr. Thrasher, and Ms. Hill along with many others in multidistrict litigation filed against BP, Transocean, and Nalco, the manufacturer of the Corexit oil dispersant formulas BP used in the Gulf. The clients seek compensatory and punitive damages for their injuries.
Government scientists estimate that BP’s blown-out Macondo well spewed 206 million gallons or more of oil into the Gulf, making it the largest offshore oil spill in history. On top of that, BP dumped more than 2 million gallons of Corexit dispersant into the Gulf, acting against the warnings of the federal government and a number of marine biologists.
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