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As Task Force Works to Verify Extent of Oil Leak, Workers Feel Effects of Toxic Dispersants

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Over a month after the Deepwater Horizon explosion that sparked the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and following increased public outrage, a task force named the "Flow Rate Technical Team" has finally been created to investigate just how much oil is spilling into our seas. The group, an inter-agency effort, is made up of scientists from the Mineral Management Service (MMS), the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Department of Energy, the U.S. Geological Survey with the U.S. Coast Guard taking the lead.

The task force was put together amidst reports that BP had either significantly underestimated or simply misled the public about the amount of oil spilling into the Gulf. In fact, after several scientists testified before Congress yesterday that the amount of oil leaking into ours seas could be more than 100,0000 barrels per day, BP finally admitted that its original estimate of 5,000 barrels was most likely inaccurate.

To make matters worse, environmentalists and scientists have become concerned about the amount of dispersant that BP has been using to break up the oil accumulating in the Gulf. Yesterday, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) informed BP that it had 24 hours to find a less toxic alternative to the Corexit chemical dispersants it has been using and 72 hours to discontinue its use all together.

To date it is estimated that approximately 700, 000 gallons of dispersants have been released into our waters, the greatest use of toxic dispersants to clear an oil spill in history. What's more, the toxic nature of Corexit and its potential for harming aquatic life has led some countries, including Britain, to prohibit its use. Corexit was used in 1989, after the Exxon Valdez oil spill, and there were reports connecting the chemical to severe health issues including respiratory, kidney and reproductive problems. In fact, Exxon's own data listed 6,722 cases of upper respiratory infections among the workers participating in its oil spill cleanup.

Preliminary data compiled by the EPA demonstrates that the level of airborne toxic chemicals poses a serious threat to human health. Fishermen and workers helping to clean-up BP's massive spill are already suffering side effects from the toxic dispersants blanketing the Gulf, including sinus infections, dizziness, vomiting, burning eyes, coughing, headaches and respiratory complications.

At this point, BP has not offered to provide respirators or special equipment to the workers on the front lines of the massive clean-up effort, proving that despite the many medical and technological advances over the past 20 years, very little has changed since the Exxon Valdez oil spill - not least of which, willingness of these oil giants to take responsibility for their negligence.

As Congressman Edward Markey, who has campaigned against the use of Corexit stated, "I think now we're beginning to understand that we cannot trust BP. BP has lost all credibility."

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