BP, Spill Partners Harmed Oil Cleanup Crews, Lawyers Say

BP Plc, its drilling partners and 11 contractors who made or applied chemical dispersants to attack the 2010 Gulf oil spill should compensate boat owners, cleanup crews and residents injured by contact with the toxic substances, lawyers suing the firms said.

Cleanup workers suffered health problems after accidentally touching or being sprayed with the dispersants, according to an amended master complaint filed in New Orleans federal court today as part of the oil-spill litigation consolidated there.

Boat owners were underpaid and vessels were damaged while working in BP’s post-spill remediation armada, according to the filing. Gulf coast residents and tourists are also suing over health problems they say were caused by inhaling fumes and touching the drifting oil and dispersants.

“Some of these diseases and conditions may be immediately evident, and others can appear months or years later,” according to the filing.

In addition to compensation for unpaid wages, bodily harm and property damage, the complaint seeks unspecified punitive damages from London-based BP and the other companies for reckless and negligent behavior. The suit also asks that BP be required to establish medical- and environmental-monitoring programs in affected parts of the Gulf coast.

Deepwater Horizon

More than 4.1 million barrels of crude spilled into the Gulf of Mexico after Transocean Ltd.’s Deepwater Horizon rig exploded and sank while drilling a BP well off the Louisiana coast last April. More than 1.8 million gallons of chemical dispersants were sprayed over or injected into Gulf waters to break up the oil, according to the complaint.

Units of Transocean, BP and BP’s co-owners in the well, Anadarko Petroleum Corp. and Mitsui & Co., are named as defendants. Also named are Nalco Holding Co., which made the dispersants, and 10 companies hired to apply the chemicals to Gulf waters and shorelines.

Daren Beaudo, a BP spokesman, declined to comment. Guy Cantwell, a Transocean spokesman, didn’t immediately respond to a telephone message seeking comment. Teresa Coon, a spokeswoman for Naperville, Illinois-based Nalco, didn’t immediately return a call seeking comment. John Christiansen, Anadarko’s spokesman, also didn’t immediately reply to a voice message.

‘Vessel of Opportunity’

BP chartered hundreds of commercial and recreational fishing boats through its “Vessel of Opportunity” program to help skim drifting crude, deploy and retrieve oil-absorbent containment booms, apply dispersants, and burn floating oil at sea.

Some of the captains in the program claim BP hasn’t paid them for the period after their boats were laid off from the cleanup task force yet not formally released from their BP charters. Some charters went unpaid for a few weeks while others languished as much as four months, according to the complaint.

Captains in some instances also complained BP used improper and incomplete cleaning and detoxification procedures that stripped paint off their vessels after the spilled oil hardened into a varnish-like substance.

Clean-up crews working onshore and offshore have complained of respiratory ailments, dizziness, elevated blood pressure, rashes and chemical burns from coming in contact with the toxic materials. Components in both the crude oil and in the chemical dispersants have been shown to cause birth defects, cancer and other long-term disorders in sufficient doses, according to the filing.

The case is In Re: Oil Spill by the Oil Rig Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico on April 20, 2010, MDL-2179, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Louisiana (New Orleans).

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