Some families of sick fishermen speak out, risk losing BP pay

Louisiana shrimpers and fishermen, now turned BP employees, are starting to break their silence about the health problems they have been experiencing ever since the Deepwater Horizon well began spewing millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. Kindra Arnesen, the wife of a shrimper and mother of two young children, told CNN that her husband has been seriously ill since April 29, when he and several other shrimpers suddenly fell sick after a Gulf breeze encompassed them with overwhelming vapors.

Like most other fishermen in Louisiana, Arnesen’s husband, David, lost his fishing grounds to the oil spill. To keep food on the table, he signed a contract to work for BP in its cleanup and containment efforts. However, because so many families now rely on BP for their pay, most people have been afraid to tell the media what their families have been experiencing.

David Arnesen called his wife on April 29 during an overnight fishing expedition. He called several times that night  to tell her that he and all the other shrimpers in the area were sick, throwing up and feeling dizzy and faint. According to the CNN report, he told Kindra that the oil fumes were “so strong they could almost taste it.” When he got home the next morning, David collapsed without eating dinner or greeting his kids. A doctor prescribed antibiotics and cough medicine, but more than a month later, David still feels ill.

Motivated to do something after attending a lecture by Rikki Ott, a toxicologist who worked with families harmed by the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989, Kindra Arnessen decided to organize other women whose husbands work to contain the oil that threatens their coast. Sadly, though, many of the families won’t participate for fear of BP retaliating. Paychecks from the oil giant are the only lifeline many coastal Louisiana residents have in the midst of an environmental disaster that has closed 40 percent of U.S. Gulf waters to fishing.

Last Sunday, when Tony Hayward was asked in a press conference about people involved in the clean-up efforts becoming sick, he responded:

“Food poisoning is clearly a big issue. It’s something we’ve got to be very mindful of.”

Graham MacEwen, a spokesman for BP, says the oil giant won’t be providing masks for workers fighting the oil spill because the company’s air monitoring shows there is no health threats to workers. BP also refuses to make the results of its air quality tests public .