Oil spill: Read this before you volunteer to clean it up

Fast Company has a gut-wrenching story about the health problems common among oil spill cleanup workers. The people spraying off those birds—work that may be, ultimately, futile—are at risk, themselves.


  1. Material Safety Data Sheet for Crude Oil

    Prolonged/repeated skin exposure, inhalation or ingestion of this material may result in
    adverse dermal or systemic effects. Avoid prolonged or repeated exposure.
    May be harmful if absorbed through the skin. Prolonged or repeated contact may create
    cancer risk, organ damage, and adversely affect reproduction, fetal development and fetal
    survival. Avoid all skin contact.
    Neurotoxic effects have been associated with n-hexane, a component of this material. Avoid
    prolonged or repeated exposure.

    Oh yeah.. TASTY!

  2. Wonderful, so basically not only have these thoughtless assholes completely cancerized the coast, with dispersants and oil, killed all the damn wildlife, but IN ADDITION to all the hell they’ve created, the people who are damned to clean it up, either by financial need or by wanting to help, WILL DIE OF CANCER.

    It’s almost too perfectly horrifying for words. Human beings couldn’t have engineered a more phenomenally toxic fuck up. These people better get the best damn health benefits in the world for the rest of their lives from BP!!

  3. 1) Cleaning the birds is very different work for volunteers from spraying boiling water on oil-soaked rocks. Our knowledge of the dangers of raw crude has grown since then. Sometimes preventative measures follow (sometimes not – or sometimes the volunteers do not follow the measures that are in place to protect them).

    2) The “scientific evidence” that birds do not survive dates back at least twenty years; often thirty years (the Valdez spill and prior spills are most frequently cited). None of the studies cited incorporate the current level of wildlife care being administered. Knowledge of wild bird care, tracking procedures, and survival rates have increased tremendously since then.

    While the survival rate is not (and will never be) 100%, it is certainly nowhere near the dismal numbers which are making headlines. To see this in the news is disheartening enough. To see it repeated here is infinitely more depressing. Please, I beg of you, research IBRRC and other bird rescue efforts before dismissing their research based upon outdated research with poor or no control group studies (they are scientists and vets, first and foremost, who have full-time jobs cleaning, tracking, and rehabilitating water birds: They don’t mince words or ignore the other side of the story).

    Part of the problem here is the same problem faced by scientists worldwide: the “fair and balanced” views touted by reporters are screaming that the world must be black and white — while the scientists will only state that they are (insert percentage here) certain.

    It is also the reluctance of either side to bring out the other reason for the search, capture, rescue, recording, cleaning, and releases: data. These birds (as mentioned from time to time when evidentiary pictures are included in stories) are used to learn about the spill and track its effects on wildlife.

    Please stop spreading the “should we even bother?” mentality that is based in such faulty science, and picks and chooses data (with a bias toward outdated studies). If you find a recent study by scientists familiar with the field, I would have a different reaction. But this sensationalism (euthanize them all!) does not help the situation, and in the end may result in slashed funding for organizations which work year-round to help rehabilitate birds that are injured at our hands through bullets, tree-trimmings, oiled birds, habitat destruction, fishing line, and on and on….

    Wildlife rescue centers have learned many things, and continue to contribute to our understanding of bird species, habitats, habits, and needs. The things they have learned since Valdez are substantial. For instance, no matter how many volunteers you have, you stop washing birds when the sun goes down, or their mortality rates skyrocket.

  4. It’s become trendy in the past few days to observe that wildlife rehabilitation efforts are futile. This view is held by a number of European wildlife biologists who actively oppose any attempts to rehabilitate oiled animals. One of them spoke with Der Spiegel and her comments have fueled criticism of the wildlife response operation and garnered media attention.

    In fact, there is considerable evidence that oiled wildlife is indeed helped by rehabilitation. Here’s a post from the Oiled Wildlife Care Network (a consortium of response organizations headquarted at UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine) that cites studies to this effect:


    There’s no doubt that many birds and other animals will die from petrochemical exposure. But experience has shown that many members of threatened species can be treated and released into the wild, and there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be doing so now.

    (Disclosure: my spouse is an oil spill responder, trainer and veteran of several large West Coast spills.)

  5. Just imagined the PR nightmare for BP if we had a round the clock HD livefeed of volunteers clubbing oiled seabirds to death on the shores.

    I also remember the thread about a month and a half ago where we discussed the comparison between Chernobyl and this disaster.

    How innocent we were back then.

  6. what Oil-spill please? BP works toward, that the hype around this “little leakage” is widely exaggerated. I guess… in the end there will be the message, that the “nutrients of the natural Oil” will fertilize the ocean. And the covering of the surface decreases the possibility of hurricanes.
    The oil platform will be a man-made coral reef, etc. etc. – altogether a great deal for this region :-)

    And if you are trying to sue: PROOF, that YOUR oil comes from THIS source! Natural oil-leakage, cleaning oil-tankers will make it futile.

    Thank to BP!

  7. There is no real way to “clean up” a major oils spill. You can only mitigate the impacts.

    That said, regaurdless of how effective the clean up efforts are, I appriciate the people who are on the ground doing the work.

    It’s not a fun job, it sounds like they’re health is on the line and it’s unclear how effective their work is. But you’ve got to respect them for trying to do something, rather than just talking about the mess.

  8. If these symptoms are so huge for people…who will a bird coated in oil who is washed off survive? They are getting a thousand times the dose one of these cleanup workers gets, in their eyes and all over their body.

    If we can’t handle small doses without permanent weakness/sickness how can something with a fraction of our body mass handle such a huge dose? I fail to see how “washing them off” does anything but make people feel good.

  9. If washing birds before they die makes people feel good, then let them do it, I say. One the of biggest problems we have in modern life is impotence in the face of events and information. Let them wash the birds.

    1. well, clearly you never had a mascot. even if they die, at least there’s something we can do to relieve them a little. I can’t stop the spill, so I better do something. anything.

  10. I was a seabird rescuer during the 1993 Tampa Bay oil spill, and was a rescue volunteer with the Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary for 4 years. I strongly agree with the comments from Anon (messge #6) and footage (message #7), and suggest potential volunteers read these comments before making a decision.

  11. The BP oil spill has had devastating effects to the environment as well as humans and wildlife in the Gulf region. we need to stop this! 658 dead birds, 279 dead sea turtles, 36 dead mammals. we need to fix this problem.

  12. If these companies spill the oil, accident or not, they should be financially responsible for the clean up, no the end user! When citizens make donations to help clean the oil spill, they should receive that amount in free gas from the company over a period of a few years.

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