Most exxon valdez cleanup workers are dead? Really?
July 3, 2010 2:05 PM   Subscribe

In this video, Kerry Kennedy states that the average lifespan of a Exxon Valdez cleanup worker is 51 years old and that almost all of those cleanup workers are dead today. Can anyone dig up a source for this statement... besides this video?
posted by SpecialK to Health & Fitness (11 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Merle Savage is selling 2 books which make that claim.
posted by Houstonian at 2:27 PM on July 3, 2010

This claim from that article makes me very skeptical of that author:

"I found out about toxic chemicals and detoxed myself with a lemon juice concoction," she said. "And I sleep on a blanket with magnets in it. It gets your system back in shape.

Does not sound like someone with the science background to be able to know if the early death/ diseases the workers experienced were linked to the spill or to something else (for example, were the people they hired mostly poor Native Alaskans? Horrifyingly, simply being raised in poverty, especially if you come from a minority group in your society, dramatically lowers life expectancy. That said, that's really low).

Not at all to say it couldn't be true-- but if it's having that obvious an effect on something so clear as mortality, I suspect more lawyers would have won bigger victories by now and it would be a better known issue.
posted by Maias at 3:59 PM on July 3, 2010 [5 favorites]

This sounds like utter horseshit. I'd like to see a source, too.

I just ten days in southeast Alaska on a boat with a 74-year-old man who, at the time of the Valdez spill, volunteered his boat, time, and effort to help clean up. He's fit as a fiddle. He talked a bit about the spill, but never said anything about other folks who worked on it dropping like flies.
posted by jdroth at 4:07 PM on July 3, 2010

Average life expectancy for Native Alaskans is about 69, or ~7 years less than US average, though this is largely due to an incredible mortality rate among young adults (and off the charts suicide rates).

I've met several people who worked in PWS after Valdez. The claim is bullshit.
posted by fourcheesemac at 4:16 PM on July 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

One thing I'm kind of suspicious's impossible to calculate the lifespan of someone who's still alive, and anyone who worked on the cleanup and is now dead probably died young, simply by virtue of the fact that the cleanup was only 21 years ago and it's not like they send elderly people to clean up oil spills. The more cleanup workers who are still living, the more lifespan statistics are going to be skewed toward an unusually short lifespan, because the workers who are living long healthy lives don't get counted. You would have to wait for all the workers to have died before you could get accurate lifespan information.
posted by phoenixy at 4:55 PM on July 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

David Icke says its true... This nonsense claim seems all over the web. One for Snopes.
posted by A189Nut at 5:04 PM on July 3, 2010

My God, this loony claim is everywhere. CNN must retract.
posted by A189Nut at 5:15 PM on July 3, 2010

Completely crazy nonsense. I work in that industry in Alaska and I was in Valdez......and I'm still kicking. So there. In fact, I can't recall any of my friends or co-workers that were involved in the active clean-up that have died (other than by accident or old age).
posted by GoodPuppy at 5:31 PM on July 3, 2010

Stuff like this from is being repeated as a source. It ends up talking about World Government and an old friend of a theory:

"By reducing the population to the numbers found around the Dark Ages (five hundred million), government control is thought by the planners to be manageable. To get down to five hundred million people from our present population of six billion people will require a ninety-two percent reduction. The reliable methods of population reduction we saw in the last century ­ Capitalist world wars and Communism ­ only achieved reductions in the hundreds of millions. Famine and genocide in Africa were not sufficiently destructive. Agenda 21 calls for the slaughter of five and a half billion people."
posted by A189Nut at 5:44 PM on July 3, 2010

The two that I know are not dead.
posted by jimfl at 5:51 PM on July 3, 2010

Point 1: Does the reporter have a list of workers who cleaned up after Valdez?

After the Valdez incident, a large number of the cleanup workers were transient. They traveled there for the work, and then they left, and nobody kept records of where they can be found now. Stating that almost everyone died implies that someone tracked down the 11,000+ workers. Did they? How?

It should be noted that this was seen as a failing in Valdez. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health is, for the Gulf cleanup, completing a roster of all cleanup crew members, monitoring workers for health conditions, and (at BP's request), completing an Health Hazard Evaluation of all workers reporting illness, among other things.

Point 2: The dispersants used in the Valdez incident is a different formula than the ones used in the Gulf.

My assumption is that the reporter would like us to make a correlation between the two incidents, and come to understand that since everyone died in the Valdez cleanup then everyone will die in the Gulf incident.

The dispersants used in the Valdez incident and in the Gulf of Mexico both come from the same company and are the same "make" but not "model". The company that creates the dispersant is Nalco, and the brand name is Corexit. In Alaska, they used Corexit 9580 which is a shoreline cleaner. In the Gulf of Mexico, they used 9500A and then switched to 9527. The EPA required the switch; although 9500A was approved years before, they decided a safer dispersant should be used given the quantities needed in the Gulf. The other alternative was Sea Brat, which does not break down and is toxic to sea life.

Point 3: What was the cause of death?

Let's say everyone was tracked down, and they are almost all dead. And let's say that the chemical makeup of the dispersants are identical. What was the cause of their deaths?

The dispersants contain the following hazardous ingredients:
- 2-butoxyethanol: In your home, you find this in Windex and Simple Green All-Purpose Cleaner.
- Propylene glycol: Found in Avalon Organics hand lotion, Right Guard Sport antiperspirant, and Duncan Hines Moist Deluxe cake mix.
- Dioctyl sodium sulfosuccinate: Found in Ex-Lax stool softener, De Flea pet shampoo, and Physicians Formula face cream.

Point 4: "BP will not give them the names of the chemicals that are in the dispersants."

No, because BP does not make the dispersants. When a company makes a chemical like this, they release a full list of the ingredients to the EPA, who regulates its use and decides if it's safe. These are not generally given to the public because they are trade secrets (not unlike anything made with ingredients that is sold to the public or to industries). In this case, there was so much concern that the EPA released the list of ingredients, and Nalco responded by posting a full list on their website. It is not a secret to anyone anymore.

She also implies that "Big Oil" is keeping important information from doctors. The Center for Disease Control provides specific guidance to doctors (pdf) based on the formulation of each dispersant. And, they all come with material data safety sheets (for example, 9500 pdf).

None of this is to say that these chemicals are 100% safe in application. That's why you see the cleanup workers wearing PPE (personal protective equipment, such as gloves, masks, and hazmat suits, which look like this photo of the Valdez cleanup). And none of this is to say that the incident isn't terrible and the consequences massive. I am saying that it is irresponsible scaremongering and lazy reporting. At a minimum, CNN could have gone to the Nalco website and viewed the pdf documents linked from their web page that addresses these issues, to see what the EPA and others have stated about the safety of the dispersants.
posted by Houstonian at 5:49 AM on July 4, 2010 [16 favorites]

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