As attorneys and public health officials review the specifics of the proposed settlement from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, many are voicing concerns that the settlement being offered will barely scratch the surface of what is needed to address medical claims from the 90,000 clean-up workers who participated in the days, weeks and months following the spill. Many reported health concerns almost immediately after starting work on the project, and their symptoms were consistent with conditions previously seen from exposure to chemicals in the petroleum-based dispersants and crude oil.
Many of the clean-up workers have reported a variety of symptoms, including respiratory problems, exhaustion, abdominal pain and seizures. Some have reported psychological problems including increased aggression and paranoia. Blood work has shown high levels of toxins consistent with exposure to crude oil, including high levels of many carcinogens. This is of particular concern when considering that the workers reported that not only were they denied access to respirators and protective clothing when they were doing the clean-up work, but when they were outfitted with the equipment by outside agencies, they were told that they would be fired if they used it.
Many of the workers attempted to collect damages from the Gulf Coast Claims Facility to help with expenses related to their medical conditions, but they were roundly denied due to expressed doubts that the health problems being reported were actually caused by the oil spill. According to the terms currently being put forth for the Deepwater Horizon settlement, those who participated directly in the clean-up, as well as those within a specifically diagnosed geographic area, are eligible to file medical claims without having to directly prove that their health problems were caused by the spill. Documentation of medical expenses and diagnoses are still being required, which will represent a problem for the large number of residents of the Gulf who do not have health insurance and therefore did not go seek medical care immediately.
The list of people who were exposed to oil, dispersants and contaminated waters is long; beyond the tens of thousands of clean-up workers and volunteers, fisherman, and Gulf coast beach and wetland residents are included in the terms of the settlement. Within the settlement terms, no mention has been made of others who may also have been impacted, including tourists who may have been exposed to the waters and people who ate seafood contaminated by the spill.