On July 8, 2010, the New York Times online ran a story from Elana Schor, a reporter for E&E/Greenwire, with the headline: "New BP Data Show 20% of Gulf Spill Responders Exposed to Chemical That Sickened Valdez Workers." The content of that article has been republished by other media outlets, and on websites run by various interested parties.
In its continuing effort to ensure that Gulf oil spill cleanup workers are protected, OSHA has analyzed the raw data on which the chart was based. The headline and much of the content of the article is based on an incorrect interpretation of a misleading chart produced by BP. OSHA's analysis of the raw data results in a very different conclusion.
The article included the statement:
But the Valdez-linked chemical 2-butoxyethanol was detected at levels up to 10 parts per million (ppm) in more than 20 percent of offshore responders and 15 percent of those near shore.
In fact, approximately 80% of the 1048 samples BP analyzed showed "no detectable level" of 2-butoxyethanol. Of the remaining 20% (n=213) of the samples with any detectable 2-butoxyethanol, the highest level measured was 0.8 ppm, and 90% of these were 0.2 ppm or less. Every measurement was well below the NIOSH recommended limit of 5.0 ppm.
In addition, the article misinterpreted the BP charts as stating that as many as 20% of workers in the oil spill cleanup were exposed to 2-butoxyethanol. Sampling is not done randomly and is no way representative of all exposed workers; in general, sampling is performed on workers who are most likely to have the heaviest exposures.
Of the samples with any detectable level of 2-butoxyethanol, 89% were taken near the source of the oil, where dispersant is being sprayed. Workers on boats near the source are provided respiratory protection. No sample taken of cleanup workers on the shore detected any 2-butoxyethanol exposure, and no sample taken on a near shore vessel detected a level above 0.1 ppm.
In summary, analysis of the raw data demonstrates that both the article's headline and the above quoted sentence are incorrect. It is not true that 20% of gulf spill responders have been exposed to 2-butoxyethanol. In addition, most exposure measurements taken found no exposure to the chemical, and all exposure levels detected are well below any occupational exposure limit.
Both OSHA and NIOSH have asked BP to make public the actual exposure data."
BP Sampling: 2- Butoxyethanol (PDF*)
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