The fishermen and other responders working on the clean up of the Gulf Coast were asked to remove their protective gear because BP didn't like the image of workers wearing moon suits and respirators.
A little background here on the rules covering companies that require their workers to use respirators. Any employer who requires an employee to wear a respirator must also require that worker to pass a physical and fit test and maintain medical monitoring. Simply put a worker must get a medical exam to determine if they can wear a respirator and have the respirator fit tested to make sure it is the correct size and actually provides protection.
Here's the kicker in the law: If an employer does not require its' workers to wear a piece of protective equipment they can fire that employee if he chooses to bring his own personal protective equipment. It's a matter of liability for the employer.
Once again BP is hiding data on the toxic effects of air in the Gulf. You will note from this report from Gina Solomon's blog:
New BP air testing results were posted yesterday from April 27 - May 26 for benzene, total hydrocarbons, and 2-Butoxyethanol. There's still no information about other oil-related air toxic chemicals such as naphthalene or hydrogen sulfide, offshore.
The BP sampling plan focuses only on workers on the large ships, and appears to not include monitoring for the people on the approximately 1,500 small fishing boats helping to clean up the spill. These people are dismissed as of "Reduced Priority" on page 4 of the BP sampling plan.
Nearly 70% (275 out of 399) of offshore air samples had detectable levels of hydrocarbons and nearly 1 in 5 (73 out of 399) had levels greater than 10 parts per million (ppm), which is an EPA cutoff level for further investigation.
6 samples exceed 100 ppm which in a previous monitoring summary was labeled as the action limit. This label appears to have been removed in the most recent summary document. No information is given on where these samples, or the 4 found to be between 50 and 100 ppm, were taken.
Had I even considered going to the Gulf to assist I would have taken moon suits, chemical resistant rubber boots, half face respirator with chem filters and nitral gloves. But it looks like BP will not stand for that. It makes me wonder if some volunteer shows up on the beach in full protective gear. BP can't fire them because they don't work for BP. My guess would be that BP would throw them off the beach even though it's a public beach. We've seen this before.
My real sympathy goes to the workers and those those that live near the beach and must breath all the toxic air on a daily basis. We may be seeing a similar situation as we saw with 911 where workers and residents developed all manner of health problems months after the event from the volume of toxins in the air at ground zero.
Lastly the wages being paid (prevailing wage rate) is $9.55 hr. That wouldn't cover your room and board for the week. And I'm hearing that workers aren't getting paid. The same things happened just after Katrina. They hired cheap Mexican labor housed them in trailers with no running water and didn't pay them. How do I know? A couple of my coworkers went down to the gulf after Katrina and saw what was going on. Fortunately unlike the Mexican workers they were paid by our company and got reimbursed for food and housing. Plus they got Washington wage rates for the job they did.