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"It’s as safe as Dawn dishwashing liquid.”
That’s what Jamie Griffin says the BP man told her about the smelly, rainbow-streaked gunk coating the floor of the “floating hotel” where Griffin was feeding hundreds of cleanup workers during the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. Apparently, the workers were tracking the gunk inside on their boots. Griffin, as chief cook and maid, was trying to clean it. But even boiling water didn’t work.
“The BP representative said, ‘Jamie, just mop it like you’d mop any other dirty floor,’” Griffin recalls in her Louisiana drawl.
It was the opening weeks of what everyone, echoing President Barack Obama, was calling “the worst environmental disaster in American history.” At 9:45 p.m. local time on April 20, 2010, a fiery explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig had killed 11 workers and injured 17. One mile underwater, the Macondo well had blown apart, unleashing a gusher of oil into the gulf. At risk were fishing areas that supplied one third of the seafood consumed in the U.S., beaches from Texas to Florida that drew billions of dollars’ worth of tourism to local economies, and Obama’s chances of reelection. Republicans were blaming him for mishandling the disaster, his poll numbers were falling, even his 11-year-old daughter was demanding, “Daddy, did you plug the hole yet?”
Griffin did as she was told: “I tried Pine-Sol, bleach, I even tried Dawn on those floors.” As she scrubbed, the mix of cleanser and gunk occasionally splashed onto her arms and face.
Within days, the 32-year-old single mother was coughing up blood and suffering constant headaches. She lost her voice. “My throat felt like I’d swallowed razor blades,” she says.
Then things got much worse.
Like hundreds, possibly thousands, of workers on the cleanup, Griffin soon fell ill with a cluster of excruciating, bizarre, grotesque ailments. By July, unstoppable muscle spasms were twisting her hands into immovable claws. In August, she began losing her short-term memory. After cooking professionally for 10 years, she couldn’t remember the recipe for vegetable soup; one morning, she got in the car to go to work, only to discover she hadn’t put on pants. The right side, but only the right side, of her body “started acting crazy. It felt like the nerves were coming out of my skin. It was so painful. My right leg swelled—my ankle would get as wide as my calf—and my skin got incredibly itchy.”
[Photo: Benjamin Lowy/Getty]
Ian Yarett looks at the scientists who are trying to figure out how many animal deaths can be attributed to the BP oil spill:
To tease out causes of death for the animals collected since the spill began, necropsies—animal autopsies—are being done on as many of the carcasses as possible, says Erin Fougeres, a marine- mammal biologist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
There’s always the possibility that higher-than-normal reported animal casualties are due to factors other than oil exposure. For instance, NOAA says that more dolphins than usual were being stranded prior to the spill—62 of them were found stranded in March, compared with the usual 18. Additionally, people are looking a lot harder for injured or dead animals than they ordinarily would, says Robert MacLean, a veterinarian at the Audubon Nature Institute. With so many cleanup workers, government officials, and environmental advocates swarming across the outlying beaches of the Gulf Coast since the spill, animal carcasses that would otherwise have gone unnoticed are more likely to be discovered.
But then again, response workers are probably collecting only a small portion of the affected animals out there. “I think we’re only seeing the tip of the iceberg. The question is how much of the iceberg is actually submerged,” says Ziccardi, a veterinarian who has been working with injured animals in the gulf since late April. “We don’t know whether we’re finding one in five animals that are affected or one in 50.”
We totally want to play Tony Hayward in this.
The likelihood of a complete collapse is difficult to assess, in part, engineers and legislators say, because BP hasn’t shared enough information to evaluate the situation. But a handful of clues suggest that the company is concerned. On Friday, BP spokesperson Toby Odone acknowledged that the 45-ton stack of the blowout preventer was tilting noticeably, but said the company could not attribute it to down-hole leaks. “We don’t know anything about the underground portion of the well,” he said. But, the stack “is tilting and has been tilting since the rig went down. We believe that it was caused by the collapse of the riser.” The company is monitoring the degree of leaning but has not announced any plans to run additional supports to the structure.
As many have speculated, and as the New Orleans Times Picayune reported Friday, concerns over structural integrity are what led BP to halt “top kill” efforts late last month. When it was digging this particular well, the company ran out of casing–the pipe that engineers send down the hole–and switched to a less durable material called liner. This may have created several weak spots along the well that would be particularly vulnerable to excessive pressure or erosion. So instead of sealing the well, the company has been focused on trying to capture the oil as it flows out the top.
Jeneen Interlandi, on new worries about the state of the BP gulf well.
Mike Williams, dazed and battered against the back wall of his shop, shoves his blown-out door out of the way. His left elbow’s hurt bad, and his leg, too. He limps and crawls across the room and through the hole where his door used to be, toward the bulkhead that opens onto the deck. He reaches for it.
Another explosion. That door is ripped from its hinges, and Mike is flung backward again. He’s hurt worse, but he starts moving again, struggles to make it outside. Something warm is dripping into his eyes, blurring his vision. It’s blood from a gash on his forehead. He wipes it away, looks right. The deck, the walkway, the hydraulics, the exhaust stack in engine three and part of the wall—they’re all gone, torn away by the blasts. He doesn’t see any fire, but the heat is intense.
He turns left. From the doorway, he hears a moaning voice. I’m hurt.
"I’m hurt bad, too," he rasps. "I can’t help you." He starts to move, stops, calls back. "But if you make it out the door, don’t go right."
This GQ story, a day-by-day and minute-by-minute account of the Deepwater Horizon explosion, the rig workers and the Coast Guard crewmen who rescued them, is pretty great.
Some of the best work on this subject has been done by Ian Parry, a senior fellow at Resources for the Future. His calculations suggest that adding all the quantifiable costs into the price of oil would increase the cost of each gallon by about $1.23. If you’re very worried about global warming, kick that up to $1.88. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the average price of a gallon of gas is $2.72 right now. If Parry is right, it should be as high as $4.60.
That’s almost certainly an underestimation. There are plenty of costs we don’t know how to price. How much of our military policy is dictated by our need for secure oil resources? How much instability is created by our need to treat oil-producing monarchies with kid gloves? How much is the environment worth in a poor country that prefers oil investment to air quality?
Ezra Klein, on trying to figure out the true cost of a gallon of gas