Category Archives: Hazards

BP Oil Spill Promotes Green Jobs Through Oil Cleanup Effort

The April 20, 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion killed 11 workers and resulted in a massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the worst spill in United States history. Millions of gallons of oil have leaked into the Gulf, and over 78,000 square miles of fishing area have been closed. One bright spot amidst this tragedy is the increase in green jobs needed to clean up the oil and to figure out how to stop the leak. Environmental activists are hoping that the push for renewable energy as a result of the spill may create longer term green collar jobs.

Green Jobs Available in Several States

Since the spill, BP has hired over 25,000 workers to assist with oil clean up efforts. States such as Florida, Alabama, Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi have set up specific websites for residents looking for spill response work. Approximately 400 positions have become available in Florida’s Walton and Okaloosa counties alone.

Job positions include anything from marine scientists, to field technicians, to coastal modelers. Employers include state and federal agencies, but also private engineering and construction firms, oil and gas companies, and emergency response firms. Some universities are also starting to expand research opportunities to study the impacts of the spill on wildlife and the economy.

Florida’s Monroe County is preparing for any spill impact on the Florida Keys by recruiting up to 300 unemployed residents to become Qualified Community Responders (QCRs). Coming from all parts of the Keys, these workers will receive paid QCR training on hazardous waste management. Over 500 QCR’s are being trained in five other Florida counties.

Hazwoper Certification Needed for Many Oil Spill Cleanup Positions

Many employers are willing to train on the job. One major requirement to work on remediation sites is the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) Hazwoper certification. Hazwoper stands for Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response. It corresponds to an OSHA standard that considers oil cleanup and containment an emergency response activity.

Workers that receive the Hazwoper training gain valuable skills. Topics of the training cover essentials such as toxicology, hazard recognition, medical surveillance, air monitoring, emergency procedures, and other areas. Workers who are temporarily visiting the oil spill site can do a 24 hour training; workers who will be on site everyday (considered general workers) must complete a 40 hour training.

Renewable Energy Cries Might Spur Green Collar Jobs in the Future

According to the green collar job advocates, Green for All, green collar jobs are ones that improve the environment, promote clean energy, and lift lower income individuals into the middle class. The oil spill has moved renewable energy advocates to pressure the government to address the dangers of relying on non-renewable sources and to expand the clean energy industry.

One long term goal for organizations like Green for All is to create a green economy. Currently workforce development programs exist to train youth and those currently unemployed or underemployed to work in green industries such as solar and wind energy production and energy conservation.

President Obama unveiled a plan to promote more clean energy jobs in January that would create 17,000 jobs. In his Oval Office address to the nation about the oil spill, he concluded by discussing America’s need to transition to using green energy sources and the jobs that are becoming available.

BP Oil Spill Brings Green Jobs and New Found Urgencies for a Green Economy

BP’s oil spill created a spike in job creation around the cleanup effort. Job websites post thousands of positions, many of which offer on the job training. Green energy activists are urging politicians to act now on moving towards a green economy with the hope that future employment growth can be in the green collar job sector.

Health Risks of the 2010 Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) put together a website for residents along the Gulf coast in response to questions about their health risks and the smells they have encountered since the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded and sank in the Gulf of Mexico in April 2010. Other questions have since been raised about strange respiratory illnesses among clean-up workers and exposure to dispersants and the byproducts of burning oil slicks.

General Health Risks Associated with Oil Spills

  • Respiratory issues – The oil smell can be harsh as volatile compounds are carried from the spill in the air to shore communities. Inhaling the compounds can cause the common respiratory symptoms of coughing and shortness of breath, as well as nausea and flu-like symptoms. The possibility of particulates in the air is increased when an oil slick is burned. Exposure to chemicals that affect the lungs can also irritate the eyes, nose, mouth, and throat, causing redness.
  • Anxiety and stress –Much of the reported illness surrounding an oil spill is attributed to apprehension. As residents are given information about the potential for toxic compounds being present in the air, they may complain of the symptoms. The psychological distress caused by such a disaster was studied after the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989. Researchers found long-term negative impacts on mental health, both in those who were directly affected economically and on the concerned general public. They have also found that localized oil spills and leaks have profound psychological effects on the communities they disrupt (Picou and Gill, The Exxon Valdez oil spill and chronic psychological stress, American Fisheries Society Symposium, 1996).
  • Dehydration – Anyone working for long periods of time, especially outdoors in the heat, can be subject to dehydration due to water lost by sweating. Severe dehydration can require medical attention. Early stages of dehydration are indicated by fatigue, headaches, dizziness, and muscle weakness, but can be addressed by increasing fluid intake.
  • Chemical pneumonia – Chemical irritation of the lungs can be caused by the dispersants used to break up oil on the surface of the water. The volatile compounds in the air from an oil spill can cause dizziness, headaches, and nausea as they displace oxygen in the lungs and irritate the respiratory mucosa, leading to inflammation.
  • Skin irritation – People should not touch the oil or tar balls formed from an oil spill in the water. The dispersants used to clean up the oil on the surface can cause a rash and dry, irritated skin.
  • Nausea – The volatile chemicals released by an oil spill can cause nausea at concentrations much lower than what is needed to make a person physically ill. Swallowing any of the water containing dispersants can irritate the stomach and cause nausea and vomiting.

Reported Health Issues Along the Gulf Coast

Residents of the Louisiana coast began complaining of severe allergy-like symptoms, including scratchy eyes, sore throat, and respiratory problems, just one month after the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded. Toxicologists at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have monitored the levels of particulates in the air. The leaking rig was 50 miles offshore, and no particulates were being detected at that time, leading many to cite stress and apprehension. Parts of the Louisiana coast were seeing particulate levels in the moderate range.

By the end of May 2010, volunteer workers were being hospitalized for dizziness, headaches, and nausea. Dehydration and a lack of respiratory masks were cited as a cause of concern. By June 10, 2010 more than 86 workers and residents in Louisiana and Alabama had been treated for some of the minor illnesses noted above (DemocracyNow). By June 28, 2010, the number had climbed to 162 cases in Louisiana alone, 128 of which were clean-up workers (CNN). The Coast Guard also confirmed in June that two workers had died, though the causes of death were not released. Over the July 4th weekend, health officials confirmed that 400 people have become sick after swimming off the beach near Pensacola, Florida (Examiner). The exact toll may not be known for years.


Non-oil-related Health Risks to Volunteers

The wetlands along the Gulf of Mexico is home to a number of animals, including venomous snakes, of which there are six species volunteers along the Gulf coast could potentially encounter in their clean-up efforts (University of Florida). The bayou of Louisiana and wetlands along the Mississippi and Florida coasts are also the known habitat of the American alligator, whose sharp teeth and powerful jaws make him an unwanted guest among the workers (National Geographic). More information on the various animals and animal-related health risks are available from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).