While attention has been paid to the the health effects of those working in and around the Gulf Coast oil spill, a new legal case may begin shedding light on the exposure of those in the region who come in contact with toxins on a more casual basis.
A recreational fisherman who lives in Mobile, Ala., has filed suit against 16 companies, including BP, which are involved in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, according to a statement released by the law firm representing the man in the case.
On May 29, Obie Carlisle was fishing for flounder in Mobile Bay, near Fairhope and Bayou La Batra, Ala., the statement says. For three or four hours, he waded in the bay to engage in “flounder gigging,” a method of flounder fishing. Unbeknownst to him, he was exposed to oil and toxins from the Deepwater Horizon spill — there were no signs posted warning of this danger, the statement says. Shortly afterward, Carlisle experienced painful rashes, nosebleeds, nasal blockages and shortness of breath, afflictions that continue to this day, the statement adds.
The spill, now the worst in U.S. history, began in April after the explosion of the BP-leased Deepwater Horizon drilling platform. In addition to the oil itself, which is depositing tar balls as far away as Florida, the disaster spread toxins contained in the chemical dispersants used to help clean the spill.
“The gross negligence and recklessness of BP is destroying people’s lives in so many different ways that they must be punished to the full extent of the law,” says Ron Motley of Motley Rice LLC, counsel for Carlisle. “For Obie Carlisle, BP not only damaged his health, causing serious injury; it took away his greatest joy, which was to fish in the Gulf’s once-fertile waters. BP must be fully held to account for exposing Obie and others to toxins and carcinogens unleashed in the Gulf’s waters.
“This case will also help address the catastrophic array of errors involved in the drilling activities onboard the Deepwater Horizon on the evening of April 20, 2010, and force the industry to change so that no one else has to suffer a similar fate,” Motley adds.
The statement from Motley Rice acknowledges that Carlisle’s suit is noteworthy as a health effects lawsuit involving a private citizen engaged in recreational activity rather than occupational exposure.
It has been that occupational exposure, endured by clean-up workers and others, that has been the focus for federal officials, including the director of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
Among the concerns raised by OSHA chief David Michaels, is the fact that the government’s chemical exposure limits are “outrageously out of date” — that exposure levels that people might encounter may fall within the legal guidelines but still be far from safe.
Carlisle’s complaint, Carlisle v. BP P.L.C., et al, was filed in Circuit Court for Mobile County, Ala. The lawsuit demands a jury trial, and compensatory and punitive damages.
The complaint alleges the defendants cut corners on safety, ignored federal and state laws and regulations, failed to prepare for the disaster they knew was entirely foreseeable, and then, after the explosion, tried to cover up the severity of the spill and downplay its catastrophic impact, undermining clean-up efforts. It also documents the plaintiff’s exposure to the oil and the adverse impact it has had on his health. In particular, the complaint summarizes the full array of scientific evidence of the harmful impact that crude oil has on human health.
Noting that the oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill contains benzene, toluene, polyaromatic hydrocarbons and other compounds which are known carcinogens, the complaint alleges that exposure has been shown to cause rashes, dizziness, headaches, nausea, infertility, immune system suppression, disruption of hormone levels, blood disorders, mutations, cancer, and lung, liver and kidney damage.
In addition, the complaint alleges that rather than deploying dispersant chemicals known to be reasonably safe, the defendants used more than 1 million gallons of Corexit products which have been banned in the United Kingdom since 1998. A key ingredient in these products is 2-butoxyethanol, exposure to which can cause rashes, coughing, wheezing, nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal pain, headache, dizziness, liver and kidney damage, cancer, and skin, nose and throat irritation.
The publisher of the news site On The Hill, Scott Nance has covered Congress and the federal government for more than a decade.