Posted: Jun 15, 2010 5:33 AM by Sharlee Barriere
BAY JIMMY, La. (AP) - In the oil-fouled marshes of the
Mississippi River delta, the sizzling high-noon heat beats down
like a fist.
There's hardly a breeze to stir the reeds dotted across the tea
colored water, but Allen Sreiy is covered from the chin down by a
white plastic suit, his feet in bright yellow boots, hands in thick
blue plastic gloves.
Sreiy's Tyvek suit, worn by hundreds of workers cleaning up oil
along the Gulf Coast, protects crews from the crude but it also
makes for a sweaty - and potentially dangerous - mess as a
sweltering heat wave sweeps across the region.
"Whatever the temperature is, you put on this suit and you add
30 degrees just like that," Sreiy said.
Sreiy, 24, and his father, Siphan Sreiy, would normally be
shrimping this time of year, going out in the cool of the evening
and working all night. But with fishing grounds closed by the oil,
they signed up for a cleanup program called "vessels of
They are putting their boats to work pulling up oil-soaked boom
instead of catching the seafood that New Orleans chefs turn into
culinary works of art.
"It doesn't pay as well as shrimping," said Sreiy, who is from
Buras, La. "But at least it pays."
If you can take the heat.
Forecasters issued an excessive heat advisory Monday for
unrelenting high temperatures across the Gulf Coast states with
heat indexes approaching 110 degrees. A heat index of more than 105
creates prime conditions for heat illnesses, according to the
National Weather Service, which says heat kills about 175 Americans
"It is a very dangerous situation," said Dr. James Diaz, head
of environmental and occupational health sciences at the LSU Health
Science Center in New Orleans.
Heat issues are reviewed every morning, said BP spokeswoman
Stephanie Shanks. On-site supervisors, she said, are responsible
for the effect of the heat.
BP says more than 24,000 workers assigned to the oil spill, but
it's unclear how many of them are dealing directly with heat
problems. Many are deployed on boats; others march the shoreline
cleaning up oil blobs that make it to beaches.
"People from this area would have an advantage," Diaz said.
"They would be acclimated to the heat and that really helps.
People coming from areas that don't have this heat and humidity are
going to have an even worse time with it."
Taslin Alfonzo, spokeswoman for West Jefferson Medical Center in
Louisiana, said 70 workers had been treated for heat-related
illness at a tent in Grand Isle. None was serious enough to require
In Orange Beach, Ala., cleanup crews were dressed in the
Occupational Safety and Health Administration-required protective
coveralls and drenched in sweat as they used shovels to remove the
top few inches of oil-stained sand. With the temperature already at
96 degrees by early afternoon on Monday, forecasters said it felt
like 112 degrees on the hot, white sand.
Generators powered big fans that were pointed under tent-like
canopies where workers took breaks, and safety bosses reminded them
to drink plenty of water. But after a few minutes in the shade, the
workers were throwing big bags of sand into the bucket of a
front-end loader rumbling up and down the sand.
Back in Louisiana, money has been hard to come by since the
spill closed down most shrimping and oyster harvesting. The bills
still come in, so Allen and Siphan Sreiy head out as often as they
can, leaving the docks before daybreak and traveling an hour in
their crude-stained boat before getting to the oil.
Across Barataria Bay - a huge expanse of water and marsh on
Louisiana's coast - shrimp boats are scattered, with their big
wing-like skimmers extending from their sides. Those skimmers would
normally spread shrimp nets but now they spread boom.
Because of the heat, workers not wearing the Tyvek suits work 40
minutes on, 20 minutes off. Workers in the suits work 20 minutes
on, 40 off.
"It's tough work," said Donnie Morgan, safety supervisor
overseeing the work around Cat Island. "And it's hot work. These
guys can't take more than 20 minutes in those suits. They need to
cool off and get water."
Lyndon Jones, 42, of New Orleans shucks off his Tyvek suit and
sips water in a small skiff off Cat Island.
He shakes his head and mops his face.
Normally, Jones says, he would be cutting grass at the New
Orleans zoo. Instead, he makes the two-hour drive to Venice, then a
two-hour boat trip through the marsh, where he suits up and lugs
the slick, heavy boom into a small boat from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.
"This is harder and hotter than cutting grass," Jones said.
"But the pay is better, so here I am."