Although the flow of oil into the Gulf of Mexico caused by last year’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion has long since been capped, the aftermath of the disaster is sadly growing messier. The number of boat operators claiming they were paid inadequately or not at all for their participation in BP’s Vessels of Opportunity (VOO) continues to rise. Meanwhile, recent media attention—including reports by ABC News, E: The Environmental Magazine and The Independent of Lafayette, La.—has focused on VOO participants complaining of health problems. The VOO program employed 3,200 otherwise out-of-work boat operators whose livelihoods were suspended due to the spill. Under the VOO agreements, boat owners were to be available to BP 24 hours a day with BP responsible for decontaminating the vessels, providing protective clothing and equipment, and paying for the costs of damage and other expenses incurred during the work. VOO participants rode through oil, burned and skimmed surface oil, and laid down booms. A group of about 100 boat owners who participated in VOO recently filed a lawsuit against BP, alleging the oil company broke several promises, including not paying boat operators for standby time, not repairing boats, and not decontaminating boats sufficiently or in a timely manner. Numerous boat owners have also individually stated that BP did not inform them of the toxic risks associated with oil and the chemical dispersants used in the clean-up process. Many say they did not receive respirators or other protective gear. Now, a number of Gulf Coast physicians are fielding complaints from VOO participants of dizziness, memory loss, nausea, vision problems, respiratory problems and skin conditions. One of the primary chemical-related health concerns is benzene, a carcinogen found in oil. An early test conducted by the Louisiana Environmental Action Network found that benzene levels in cleanup workers, divers, fisherman and crabbers was 36 times that of the general population.  major health study of some 55,000 response workers and volunteers is currently being conducted by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. Although the findings of that large-scale study will not be available for some time, Dr. Gina Solomon, codirector of the occupational and environmental health program at the University of California at San Francisco said in a recent article in the Journal of the American Medical Association that the Gulf spill “poses direct threats to human health from inhalation or dermal contact with the oil and dispersant chemicals.” If you live in Alabama and were not paid adequately for your participation in VOO or you suffered other injury or economic loss due to the Gulf oil spill, please contact the experienced Mobile attorneys at Long & Long, for a free case evaluation.

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