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Gulf oil spill sickens more than 70 people in Louisiana

Oil covered brown pelicans found off the Louisiana coast and affected by the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico wait in a holding pen for cleaning at the Fort Jackson Oiled Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Buras, Louisiana, June 9, 2010. Photo courtesy AFP.

US demands BP produce details on oil spill damage claims
Washington (AFP) June 9, 2010 - US disaster control chief Thad Allen said Wednesday he has sent a letter to BP demanding records of reimbursement claims filed by individuals and businesses for damages stemming from the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. The announcement of his request, which as made in a letter dated June 8, came as he prepared later Wednesday to meet with BP officials to discuss "ongoing concerns related to delayed processing time for large loss claims pending with no action taken," and other concerns about the claims and reimbursement process. "They own the data, we need the data. I asked for that in the letter and now we'll move forward to correct any problems we might find," Allen said at a news conference. Wednesday's meeting will be "a prelude to a series of meetings in the states, to focus the claims process and what can be done to improve it," the retired Coast Guard admiral said.

"We feel it's our responsibility with the oversight role with BP to make sure it's done effectively." In the correspondence, Allen ordered BP CEO Tony Hayward to produce dozens of details about claims that have been filed so far, including "detailed information on how claims are being processed, how payment amounts are being calculated, and how quickly claims are being processed." "Access to this level of detail is critical in informing the public as to how BP is meeting its obligations as a responsible corporation," Allen said in his letter. "I expect a response from BP on this critical issue as soon as possible," he said. Hayward is scheduled to appear at a June 17 hearing before the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, which is part of the Energy and Commerce Committee, for a hearing on the April 20 oil rig explosion and ongoing oil spill, the biggest environmental disaster ever in the United States.

Clinton, Caribbean ministers to discuss oil spill
Georgetown, Guyana (AFP) June 9, 2010 - Caribbean Community and Dominican Republic foreign ministers will bring up the potential impact on their countries from the Gulf of Mexico oil spill in talks Thursday with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Barbados. "The discussion on the oil spill will be part of a wider agenda item looking at energy and climate change cooperation," the Guyana-based Caricom headquarters said in a statement ahead of the discussions. Officials in Caricom member-nations Bahamas and Jamaica as well as Cuba and the Cayman Islands are bracing themselves for greasy shores depending on ocean currents and storm surges during the hurricane season that officially runs from June to October each year.

The oil spill was triggered by a massive explosion on April 20 of an offshore rig operated by BP and has killed birds and other species as well as dirtying once clean beaches in the worst environmental disaster in the region's history. The US secretary of state, fresh from the General Assembly of the Organization of American States (OAS) in Peru, was also expected to discuss the reconstruction of Haiti which suffered a devastating earthquake earlier this year. "With hundreds of thousands still displaced as the hurricane season begins, reconstruction and rebuilding efforts are being pursued urgently," Caricom said. Other items on the agenda of the 90-minute meeting include the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI), trade, the impact of the global financial and economic crisis and cooperation in health and development.
by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) June 9, 2010
Seventy-one people in Louisiana have suffered health problems that officials believe are linked to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the state's department of health and hospitals said Wednesday.

Fifty of those who have reported symptoms including throat irritation, cough, shortness of breath, eye irritation, nausea, chest pain and headaches, worked on oil rigs or were part of the effort to clean up the spill.

Thirty of the workers said their illness came on after they were exposed to emulsified oil and dispersant, said the report, which is updated weekly.

Eight people -- all of them rig or clean-up workers -- have been hospitalized with spill-related illnesses, the report said.

All hospitalizations were short, "generally one day," it said.

Twenty-one reports of illness came from members of the general public and were overwhelmingly related to odors from the oil spill.

Most of the members of the public who reported symptoms were at home when they fell ill, the report shows.

The most common symptom associated with the spill was headache, followed by nausea, cough and throat irritation.

The Louisiana state health authority began gathering reports of human exposures to oil from the slick or chemicals used to disperse it four weeks after the April 20 explosion on the BP-leased Deepwater Horizon that caused the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

The report was compiled using data gathered from emergency departments, outpatient clinics, doctors' offices and the Louisiana poison control center.

earlier related report
New poll shows huge swing in US views on offshore drilling
Washington (AFP) June 9, 2010 - A poll released Wednesday shows a massive shift in public opinion on offshore drilling in the wake of the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster in Florida, a key electoral state that is feeling the impact of the calamity.

In the June 1-7 poll, Florida voters opposed by a 51 to 42 percent margin increasing the amount of offshore oil drilling, a 48-point swing from the 66 to 27 percent support for drilling in an April 19 survey just before the blast that triggered the Gulf spill.

Both surveys were by Quinnipiac University.

The latest poll also showed President Barack Obama's job approval in the state has slid to 40 percent, his lowest point ever in Florida and down from a 50 percent approval rating April 19, right after his call for increased offshore drilling.

"Clearly, the gulf oil spill has changed the way Floridians view offshore drilling and almost certainly is responsible for the drop in President Obama's approval rating," said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. "

"Voters disapprove 54 to 37 percent of the way Obama is handling the spill."

They survey also indicated that Florida Governor Charlie Crist, who quit the Republican Party to run as an independent for Senate, would edge Republican Marco Rubio 37 to 33 percent in the three-way contest, with 17 percent for the likely Democratic Party nominee, Kendrick Meek.

earlier related report
BP says 'throwing everything' at oil spill disaster
London (AFP) June 9, 2010 - British energy giant BP said on Wednesday it was "throwing everything" at helping fix the US oil spill disaster, as it revealed that world oil demand sank last year for the first time since 1982.

"BP is working closely with governments and private sector experts to stop the flow of oil and to minimize the damage to the environment," BP chief executive Tony Hayward said in an introduction to its global outlook report.

"We are throwing everything we have at mitigating this disaster. Our thoughts are with those who have lost loved ones, and those whose livelihoods have been disrupted.

"We are determined to set right what has gone wrong and to learn from the tragedy. Eventually, we will succeed, and eventually, this disaster will lead to a safer and better energy world."

BP has faced fierce criticism over its handling of the worst oil spill in US history, particularly from US President Barack Obama.

Meanwhile, the group said Wednesday that worldwide energy consumption -- of coal, oil, natural gas, nuclear and hydro power -- sank by 1.1 percent last year because of the global economic downturn.

That was the first drop since 1982 and the largest in percentage terms since 1980, BP said in its 'Statistical Review of World Energy 2010'.

"Global economic recession drove energy consumption lower in 2009 -- the first decline since 1982," the group added.

"As with the economic contraction, the decline in energy consumption was concentrated in OECD countries and the territory of the former Soviet Union."

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) refers to the Paris-based grouping of leading industrialised nations.

earlier related report
Improvements to well cap will double oil retrieval: US
Washington (AFP) June 9, 2010 - BP will be able to double the amount of oil being collected from a ruptured pipe after the current containment system is refitted with a new device, the top US disaster official said Wednesday.

By late next week with the new enhancements in place, engineers should be able to suck up as much 28,000 barrels of oil per day, boosting the current daily haul of 15,000 barrels, retired Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen said.

Additional refinements over time to the containment system will capture even more oil as they are put in place.

"We're only at 15 (thousand) right now we'll be at 28 (thousand) by next week and we'll be well beyond that when the new system comes in place, that will be in seven to 10 days beyond that," he said.

"We're building capacity. If we get this thing up to 28,000 barrels a day, that's where we want to be."

Allen described in detail the elaborate new system which could be the first step of several improvements designed to "take leakage almost down to zero."

"What we're going to have basically is a pumping capability at the surface connected by a flexible hose down to the riser that continually offloads to tankers," Allen said.

"The pipe at the bottom of the riser pipe will go back to the wellhead," he said.

"At that point we might be able to move from a containment cap to an actual hard cap, which would be able to reduce everything that' coming out," Allen said, "which means we could take leakage almost down to zero."

BP last week installed a containment cap on the well which initially collected only about 6,000 barrels per day of oil, but which has steadily increased over the past days.

The company has still not been able to determine how much oil is spewing out of the broken well. Videos images posted online by the company show black crude flowing heavily from the wellhead and around the edges of the cap.

Some independent experts have suggested the oil flow rate has increased since the failed "top kill" operation -- BP's effort last month to clog the leak, which the company warned risked increasing the flow of oil by 20 percent.

Allen said at a press briefing that he has ordered a "flow rate task group" led by the United States Geological Survey (USGS) to go back to the drawing board and work up new estimates on how much oil is gushing from the wellhead.

"They're going to be looking at that again," he said.

"We'll just continue to refine the estimates. I'm not going to declare victory on anything until I have the numbers," he said. "Show me the numbers," he declared.

The British energy giant is meanwhile drilling two relief wells which should be ready by August, and which will enable the company to permanently plug the leak.

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Bhopal: 25 years for justice -- even more for a clean-up
Bhopal, India (AFP) June 9, 2010
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