By Dylan McGuire
The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico last spring and summer was not only catastrophic to the environment of the region, it was also catastrophic to those involved in the cleanup efforts as well as to the Gulf community as a whole, Dr. Tee L. Guidotti told attendees of the recent LexisNexis Oil in the Gulf webinar held on Nov. 1, 2010.
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“The Gulf release was a catastrophe . . . . it was an occupational catastrophe. And I think we need to remember that 11 workers lost their lives in this and we need to think of the workers involved in the cleanup,” said Dr. Guidotti, M.D., M.P.H., who works for Medical Advisory Services in Rockville, Md. He said that of particular concern to workers were the chemicals in the dispersants that were used in the cleanup, many of which contained glycol ethers. He said that these compounds are “very controversial” and have been shown to cause decreased fertility, birth defects, toxicity and fetal death in rat studies. However, he said that these adverse effects only occurred in large doses and that only limited studies have been performed on humans.
Guidotti said that attorneys seeking to represent individuals who were allegedly injured by dispersants should pay particular attention to whether sufficient documentation exists to provide a foundation for their case. He said that individuals who may have been exposed to the chemicals in confined spaces such as the holds of ships would have been particularly susceptible to adverse effects.
“Be very careful of your theory of the case,” Dr. Guidotti told attorneys. He advised them to be wary of unconventional causation theories. For example, he said that although some toxicologists recognize multiple chemical sensitivity as a disorder, it has yet to survive an evidentiary challenge under the Daubert standard (Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, 509 U.S. 579 ). He also said that lifestyle factors, especially including the plaintiff’s smoking habits, are particularly important to whether a case will survive, since smoking presents a compounding factor to toxic exposures.
Guidotti told listeners that other than exposure to toxins in dispersants and in crude oil itself, many of the cleanup workers in the Gulf were exposed to extreme heat and humidity. He said that 10 workers were hospitalized during the cleanup efforts and later found to have been suffering from heat exhaustion. Some of the cases were so extreme that the patients almost experienced heat stroke, Dr. Guidotti said.
He also told attorneys to consider other “indirect risks” to the cleanup workers and individuals living in the region, such as stress and depression caused by uncertainty about how the spill would affect their community as a whole.
Dr. Guidotti joined Medical Advisory Services (MAS), a Division of The NMAS Group, in early 2010 bringing with him deep experience in the field of occupational and environmental medicine, specifically in the fields of epidemiology, toxicology, enterprise and occupational risk management, medical evaluations, indoor environmental air and water quality investigations, and workers’ compensation. Just before joining MAS, Dr. Guidotti spent a year consulting in Saudi Arabia for Saudi Aramco, a global petroleum enterprise. While there, Dr. Guidotti worked with the company’s Preventive Medicine Services division on strategic planning and program development to enhance their wellness programs and occupational health services.
Dylan McGuire is a freelance legal journalist based in the Philadelphia area. He is a former editor of various Mealey’s Litigation Reports published by LexisNexis.