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Devastating Report Exposes Unequal Treatment of BP Illness Claims

Posted: 07/29/11 02:22 PM ET

Kenneth Feinberg, administrator of the Gulf Coast Claims Facility (GCCF) set up in the aftermath of the BP Drilling Disaster, has broken with his own past practices -- as well as the evidence compiled by scientists and the experience of Gulf Coast residents -- and refused to pay health claims filed by Gulf Coast residents.

In a devastating report released today, Advocates for Environmental Human Rights (AEHR), a public interest law firm that has taken a leadership role in environmental justice struggles on the Gulf Coast, has documented the hypocrisy and injustice behind Feinberg's policies.

Up to this point, Feinberg has denied all damage claims for illnesses associated with exposure to the toxic BP crude oil and/or toxic chemical dispersants that were applied to the oil spill. In doing so, he has said that he requires medical proof of causation showing that the illnesses were caused by toxic exposures during the BP oil cleanup work. In their report, AEHR shows the problem with this position:

Feinberg's requirement of medical proof of causation for BP illness claims is a break from his past practices in processing claims and pay-outs in the 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund and the Agent Orange Settlement Fund. As the administrator of those funds, Feinberg did not require medical proof that a claimant's illness or disability was caused by being exposed to toxic air pollution resulting from the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks or the toxic chemicals in Agent Orange sprayed during the Vietnam War. These disaster fund programs paid claimants based on a showing that they were in the vicinity where harmful chemicals were present and had a medically diagnosed illness or disability. The rationale for not requiring medical proof of causation in the Agent Orange Settlement Fund, which was replicated in the 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund, is "the inconclusive state of the scientific evidence" to demonstrate that a specific toxic exposure caused a specific physical harm.

By creating a significantly higher burden of proof standard for illness claims by people exposed to toxic chemicals during their cleanup of BP's oil disaster, Feinberg effectively denies all damage claims for illnesses associated with exposure to the toxic BP crude oil and/or toxic chemical dispersants that were applied to the oil spill. Feinberg's unprecedented standard implies that the sacrifices that cleanup workers and volunteers have made to protect the coastal communities, livelihoods, culture, marine species, and wildlife of the Gulf Region from the largest environmental disaster in the history of the United States are of lesser importance.

It also implies that people living in or visiting the Gulf Coast who were exposed to BP's oil and/or chemical dispersants do not deserve the same level of protection afforded to the residents and visitors in the vicinity of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, who received financial compensation for toxic exposure-related illness without medical proof of causation.

This is not the first time that AEHR has intervened for justice in the claims process. On June 11, 2010, less than two months after the BP oil drilling disaster, AEHR exposed the fact that BP contracted with a claims processing company that promoted its record of reducing lost dollar pay-outs for injuries and damage caused by its client companies. This company, ESIS, Inc., was administering the claims filed by people who suffered injuries and losses from the BP oil disaster.

A few weeks later, Kenneth Feinberg was appointed as the administrator to take over the BP claims process and he established the Gulf Coast Claims Facility. Clearly, the fight for justice for those affected by the BP disaster is not over.

The report can be downloaded at ehumanrights.org.