37,000 cleanup workers, residents and military personnel wait to be heard in court 8 years later

The author organized and participated in actions for the Seize BP campaign which called for the seizure of BP’s assets for a cleanup governed by a people’s body. He interviewed Jonathan Henderson who is organizing for health justice for the cleanup workers and others impacted by the spill. BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded on April 20, 2010, killing 11 workers, injuring 17, contaminating the Gulf with 210 million gallons of crude oil. For 87 days oil and dispersants were poured into the Gulf making it the largest oil spill in U.S. history.

“I work at the state legislature during the sessions doing advocacy and I listen to all the discussions about the budgets and how they’re using BP settlement money to plug this hole, or plug that hole, or use them for coastal restoration, and all that’s good. That’s needed– but, nobody is doing anything to help the victims. The victims are just at the mercy of the legal system. And, so that’s just not right,” Jonathan Henderson told Liberation News. He is a victim of exposure to oil and chemicals from the spill and advocate for the workers and coastal people injured from the 2010 spill.

“In the back of my mind I’ve always been deeply concerned about the health impacts to human lives, and have never forgotten about that, and have still been in contact with a lot of fishermen that are sick.”

“Every year somebody ends up doing something as a memorial to the disaster, but after all this time nobody’s really spoken about people who were the health victims.”

“So, I got together with General Honoré [the Lieutenant General who coordinated relief efforts during Deepwater Horizon, and previously Katrina] and put together a press conference outside of the Federal Courthouse in New Orleans–where a lot of the medical claims are that haven’t been settled and are being held up–and started organizing, getting victims to tell their stories, got a petition together, which at that time I think I had close to 20,000 signatures, maybe 25,000 signatures,” explained Henderson on the initial organizing. The petition now has over 100,000 signatures.

“I did a press conference on April 20th on memorial may, and then a rally the next day and I was– I don’t guess I was surprised, but a lot of victims started contacting me, and this kind of has grown into sort of a victims helping victims situation because when you get into the legal part, or the legal injustice that’s happened, it’s wrong.

“So, the petition itself was aimed at BP, the plaintiff’s steering committee, and the claims administrator and the judge– Judge Barbier. One of the miscarriages of justice is that it’s been over eight years– eight and a half years now– and not a single medical claim has gone to court.”

“According to the medical field, eight to 12 years is kind of the window where most people will develop chronic conditions from having been exposed to the oil and Corexit, and so we’re seeing an uptick in the number of cancer patients related to the oil spill. So, nobody– and, look, I work at the state legislature during the sessions doing advocacy and I listen to all the discussions about the budgets and how they’re using BP settlement money to plug this hole, or plug that hole, or use them for coastal restoration, and all that’s good. That’s needed– but, nobody is doing anything to help the victims. The victims are just at the mercy of the legal system. And, so that’s just not right.”

Corexit poisoned the Gulf–BP guilty!

A new University of Miami study confirms that Corexit, the chemical dispersant banned in the UK and several other countries was ineffective in containing the spill after 770,000 gallons were injected in the wellhead, poisoning the wildlife and people of the Gulf.

What the people of the Gulf and others know is that dispersants were intended to conceal the extent of the damage of the spill highlighting BP’S disregard for human life and the environment.

“My purpose was to ground truth what was really happening in the Gulf. So to visually show that the disaster was as huge as it was; and, especially given then BP and the federal government were downplaying the impacts and the size of the spill,” countered Henderson.

“Let me do say that because I was out in the field fighting it, I was exposed to the oil and the Corexit, and I developed some of the acute symptoms you hear about that people experience, like itchy skin and rashes, and nausea, I was nauseous, and burning eyes and the like. So, this is personal for me, and as somebody that grew up, you know– I grew up in New Orleans, but I spent a lot of time out in the wetlands as a child.”

Estimates of up to 20,000 clean up workers were excluded from BP’s class action settlement in 2012. The only option for recourse is to return to court–but filing costs alone are in the millions of dollars.

Many of these workers were First Responders to the crisis of the catastrophe. One fisher who was in the area during the explosion responded to a call from BP for help only to be exposed to contaminants and have his boat destroyed afterwards–never to be compensated. The stories of many of these people can be found on Henderson’s website bphealthjustice.com

To illustrate further the theft from these 20,000 workers, if the 2012 lawsuit went in their favor, BP would have paid out roughly $1.2 billion in claims for this group alone. Still it would only account for a fraction of the need for the region based on the contamination of the spill.

Winning justice for BP’S victims

BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded on April 20, 2010, killing 11 workers, injuring 17, contaminating the Gulf with 210 million gallons of crude oil. For 87 days oil and dispersants were poured into the Gulf making it the largest oil spill in U.S. history.

“It might have to come from Congress, and it might not be possible because there’s a medical settlement that was agreed upon by the plaintiff’s steering committee and BP, and the judge signed off on it. So, that’s the mechanism to seek remedy right now for victims– the medical claims process. I don’t know if we could do anything for this disaster, but maybe we could do something for the next one.”

But in the meantime regarding the struggle to address the health needs of the clean-up workers and coastal people, Henderson  makes one conclusion: ‘BP- they have to pay for it.’