In the months following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill that dumped 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico during what became known as the largest marine oil spill in the history of the petroleum industry, Walter Castro was measuring air quality on the impacted beaches, inhaling chemical fumes for weeks on end that on occasions was so strong it irritated his skin, burned his eyes, and even made him and his boat crew shake violently and become ill.
Castro requested personal protective equipment like respirators, but the company refused to give him any. Instead, BP instructed him to return time and time again to areas affected by the spill where he had measured high levels of the cancer-causing chemical benzene.
Years later, Castro was diagnosed with a chronic condition listed among those linked to oil and gas exposure, and listed among those that BP agreed to pay response workers for as part of a major medical settlement that came out of the 87-day oil spill. The settlement would pay as much as $60,700 per worker. Benzene-related diseases include blood cancer, specifically acute myeloid leukemia, or AML.
Since 2010, the company has paid billions in fines and compensation to individuals, business and local governments. And while it negotiated a settlement to compensate responders and coastal residents who say the noxious fumes made them sick, an estimated 20,000 workers were not included in the settlement because despite their conditions being chronic, they were not diagnosed by a doctor within two years after the spill. That’s because a later court ruled to exclude those diagnosed after two years from the terms of the settlement.
But response workers could soon be compensated. Castro and others have filed lawsuits against BP. The first lawsuits are expected to go to trial in early 2019. About 11,000 lawsuits from cleanup workers have been filed in federal court in New Orleans so far.