Our Response Plan For Oil Spills Isn’t Working

From In These Times:  http://inthesetimes.com/article/15841/sickness_after_the_mayflower_oil_spill

We know how to sponge oil off pelicans. But when it comes to human health, we’re alarmingly clueless.

BY Brad Jacobson
November 12, 2013

More than 2.6 million miles of oil and gas pipelines currently snake through the U.S., overseen by only 135 inspectors from the Transportation Department’s regulatory agency—a safety system the top pipeline safety official recently described as “kind of dying.” That’s particularly alarming considering plans for new pipelines such as the Keystone XL, which, if approved, will increase the mileage of oil-bearing pipes in the U.S. by 1,700 miles and carry millions of gallons of particularly toxic tar sands oil right through the heartland of America. A spate of U.S. pipeline ruptures in recent years underscores how ill-prepared we are to address the health needs of residents following oil spills, and how poorly we document the health impacts so as to develop better responses to future spills.

When ExxonMobil’s Pegasus pipeline ruptured last March and flooded a Mayflower, Ark., neighborhood with an estimated 210,000 gallons of heavy crude oil, our National Contingency Plan (NCP) for responding to hazardous substances, including oil spills, was set into motion.

In a nutshell, this is how the plan operates: The company that spilled the oil works with federal, state and local agencies to stanch the flow, and then eventually begins the daunting task of cleaning up the mess. All parties work in concert to monitor air and water quality, which is supposed to limit residents’ exposure to toxic and carcinogenic chemicals found in the oil. The Environmental Protection Agency is the official on-scene coordinator for inland areas, the Coast Guard for coastal or major navigable waterways.

You may notice what’s missing from this plan: what happens when people actually get sick. The plan doesn’t prioritize responding to the acute, chronic and long-term medical health of exposed local populations—including prompt screening for baseline signs of disease, which public health experts say is crucial for both proper medical treatment and effective research on human health effects. That’s left largely up to state and local agencies, which invariably don’t have the expertise or the resources to adequately carry out the task. So in spill after spill, emergency responses vary, citizens often suffer the health consequences with little or no recourse, and there continues to be a dearth of data on the health impacts.

Public health experts with experience in oil spill response who spoke with In These Times stressed the need for the NCP to utilize the type of specialized medical teams that are sent to areas during such disasters as catastrophic storms or infectious disease outbreaks.

Continue reading at:  http://inthesetimes.com/article/15841/sickness_after_the_mayflower_oil_spill

Posted in Uncategorized. Comments Off on Our Response Plan For Oil Spills Isn’t Working
%d bloggers like this: