An Insider look at Oil Spill Cleanup Christopher Klug

I need five volunteers to load supplies and water at the staging area. Everyone else stay on the bus! These stirring words rouse the napping workers from their reverie as the large charter bus winds its way through Pensacola Beach. Jen Superdock, a diminutive pony-tailed young woman in a white hard hat gazes impassively through wraparound sunglasses at her charges from the front of the bus; 40 men and women of various backgrounds, ages and ethnicities, now identically garbed as an informal army in reflective vests, safety glasses and work boots. The usual hands go up, and she is pleased and nods the affirmative. The staging area, a commandeered parking area just past the last concrete massive of condos is guarded by a lone deputy in his car. He backs up slowly to let the bus pass. The volunteers charge off the bus and begin to load cases of bottled water, Gatorade, ice, plastic rolls, shovels, rakes and other implements of reconstruction. One by one the foremen report to Jen their shortages and missing items. They re out of latex gloves, and will only give us 12 pairs of Nitrile, those heavy black rubber ones. They only gave us one roll of duct tape. Out flips the Blackberry, and Jen has a short conversation with an invisible party. Back on the bus! Lou-Lou will bring us the rest on the

beach. The bus eases out of the staging area and heads back to the other end of the island, where large amounts of oil have been reported. The night crews work from 5pm until 6am, thirteen hour shifts seven days a week. The crews are ravaged by exhaustion and sickness, but the lure of steady work and over forty hours of overtime keeps them on the job even if they re sick. All have taken the 40 hour HAZWOPER (Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response) training required by OSHA, and all have been through BP s training as well. The HAZWOPER training addresses working in chemical suits and respirators, and the safety protocols of chemical decontamination. All have taken drug tests and physicals, and supposedly

and disgorges its contents of fluorescent workers and supplies. Upon my dejected return to Pinellas. Parsons wanted deckhand experience and youth and I had neither. What was I doing wrong? My local veteran s services rep suggested rewriting my resume. We all grab something from the mountainous pile. As a grad student I needed a summer job. I was ready! I persistently applied to every prospective employer with my resume. I received a promising email from a labor contractor in response to an ad I answered on Craigslist. Panama City. I scanned Craigslist job offerings in the locations affected by the spill. and even drove to a job fair in Panama City hosted by the Parsons Corporation. and begin our long trek up the beach. BP began to mobilize cleanup contractors. The only way to get a day off is a doctor s note or to fall out with heat exhaustion on the beach. paring it down to the minimum. lured by promises of $25 per hour for boom deployment work. I had the advantage of being able to pay for the course and take it online. The bus glides to a stop in front of Casino Beach.passed background checks. Ads promising high pay for workers popped up seemingly everywhere. and a strong back. The crews work until they drop. I was instructed to apply online and send . Alas. I was over-educated and a graybeard. Pensacola. Assemble by your team s supplies and stand by . Most of the local ads seeking oil spill workers were just making a list in case of a deluge of oil on the local beaches. I eliminated all traces of middle age. completing it in a few days. Mobile and New Orleans. and talked up my supervisory experience. and heard nothing for days. Foremen stand at the exit. and helping to clean up a threat to Florida s beaches seemed appropriate and noble. Immediately after the Deepwater Horizon blew up and sank. and determined that the qualifications required were a 40 hour hazardous materials handling class called HAZWOPER. and bark Safety glasses on! Everyone knows their team. I responded to ads in Tampa.

the contractor called me and told me to stand down. The next morning I drove to the office in pouring rain. and he could have me working right away. no way are they going to beat me to the jobsite. we are required to set up a canopy in the rest area of camp.a copy of my HAZWOPER certification. or Personal Protective Equipment. the parking lot was full of white pickups with license plates from Louisiana and Texas. BP printed our ID cards on the spot. RCI from of Slidell. Crews were working 7 days a week. and after a brief interview and mountains of application paperwork I was hired to supervise a crew of 10 -15 cleanup workers at the rate of $15 per hour and $75 a day for expenses. 12 hours a day not including the additional hour to clock in and receive your job assignment. and far older than most of these kids. while the other half suits up in PPE. Hours later. I sent my new resume. Louisiana was hiring. The straggly line of fluorescent vests trudge nearly a mile down the beach. I received an interview appointment for the following Monday with the Tallahassee firm Eisman and Russo Consulting Engineers. as well. I drove to Orange Beach. I was not to be deterred. and dismissed the long hours. The workers quickly . an hour of lecture specific to the hazards of spilled oil. at their office in Pensacola. The job hours were daunting. Although we are working the night shift. and I was ready to start work that very night. fighting deep sand and struggling with equipment. I was ecstatic! Most of the workers make between $10 and $12 per hour. I am a foreman. I loaded my clothes and work boots in my trusty sedan and headed up US 19 to Pensacola. Sunday night. There were at least two contractors sharing this office. I arrive winded and heart pounding at the jobsite. there was some sort of unexplained insurance hitch regarding the crews on the beach. an old used car lot on West Navy Boulevard. and Eisman and Russo were not hiring that day. I set a brisk pace with a case of water on my shoulder and my clipboard in my other hand. Alabama later that day for BP s training. I greedily added up the overtime. Upon my arrival. I rented a room at America s Best Motel. and instruct one half of our team to set up camp.

They work in groups of two or three. most choose to stay in the sand. We are assured of this by our Turtle Lady. The teams work thirty minutes. Ten to Fifteen pounds in those bags! Jen has arrived on the scene and admonishes the crew. or remain in the decon area. It s rumored they are going to landfills. and a few workers begin to spin them and tape them closed. and Tyvek coveralls. a charming woman of advanced years who prowls the beach all night for the Fish and Wildlife Service. It s still hot. As a foreman. but she s . raking and shoveling tar and sand into plastic bags. and the transition starts to flow smoothly. and begin to rake tar balls and oily seaweed into piles. Our coolers have not arrived. It s a bit like cleaning the world s largest cat-box. The bags of decon will be double-bagged and duct-taped shut before beginning their journey to wherever it is they eventually wind up. A pair of latex gloves followed by heavy black Nitrile gloves adds to the ensemble. Thirty minutes later. and sweat runs down our faces as we struggle into yellow rubber booties called chickenfeet . so water and Gatorade bottles swim in big plastic bags filled with ice. Rest is a strange term. Team One heads to the tideline and Team Two surrenders their tools and trudges back up to the decon area. I advise them to get ready to go back out. I accept the duty of cocktail waitress dispensing cold water and Gatorade to all. and set up our two folding chairs to assist with donning the PPE. and expenditure of energy. That s two shovelfuls! The working team transfers the bags to the decontamination area. checking off names on my clipboard. a troubling thought. sprawled out in the sand. which are reputedly making their way to the beach to lay eggs. Team Two. Red light doesn t scare turtles. and rest thirty. The pile of decon bags is starting to grow. headout! Ten rubber and plastic encased workers head to the tideline. She hasn t seen a turtle yet. By 9:30PM it s dark. I hand out red LED headlights. and the red headlamps of the crews look like bright red fireflies bobbing and weaving on the tideline. Twenty minutes later. since they must either remove all of their PPE to go into the canopy area with coolers of cold drinks.lay out plastic sheeting to define the decontamination zone. To remove the PPE required at least 10 minutes.

The fireflies resume their Kokopelli-like dance. and our box lunches from Subway won t be at the bus until two a. and the moon begins to set in the west. With thousands of applicants. OSHA requires us to walk in twos at night on the beach. and draw Jen s attention to him. and Scott. there s no room for the sick or the slow. and a forty minute round trip means the next crew doesn t head back to the bus to eat until around 3. One worker has been sleeping on his break. while his team works around him. Other workers that become slothful are not so fortunate. we have our first casualty. some 1500 yards distant. and lunch is the topic for conversation. a gregarious and successful Pensacola charter fishing boat captain who is trying to stop this insidious evil from ruining his livelihood by single-handedly cleaning the entire beach. Tonight lunch is late. I repeatedly have to wake him up to go back to work. I get to know something of my crew: My most dedicated workers are Larry. The pile of Decon bags is huge. By one. and the returning crew is set to double bagging. I ask How do they remove oil from turtle eggs? she ponders this and has no answer. His daughter is a . He leans on his shovel and dozes. an easygoing construction crane owner and operator from Las Vegas who although independently wealthy has altruistic motives. and we start sending the first crew back for lunch at the bus. a well-meaning soul. She advises me to keep an watchful eye on him. They get twenty minutes to gobble a bland Subway sandwich of unknown provenance. Two in the morning. Conversation turns to more personal issues. and that LouLou will terminate him in the morning. The crews work slower now. actually falling off the cooler he was sitting on twice. and five more will be sent back to the bus mid-shift the next night. The full moon rises. By midnight the haze from evaporation is blotting out the horizon as a miasmatic fog settles in and the humidity skyrockets. and a steady stream of fireflies trickle back and forth to the porta-potties. and a column of yellow light skips across the waves.ready to assist.m.

working on her degree at the local university. a small fourwheel drive utility vehicle suitable for sand. It seems there s more gear than when we started out. Charles confides that it s not rocket science. I have in my charge a gregarious boyfriend-girlfriend team of twenty-somethings from Pensacola. The other foreman has been on the job just a few days longer than me. . The sleepy worker has his BP badge pulled by Charles. and that I should have a good grasp by my third night. Charles is understandably more than a trifle nervous about having to fire the man and then ride on a bus with him for an hour. We see him little. and I m silently thankful this task fell to Charles and not to me. and a young female student from Alaska. He s right. and we pitch them onto the back of Lou-Lou s Gator. and our management team with the exception of Lou-Lou has just a few days more experience than the newest worker. Lou-Lou has the hesitant spryness and wiry toughness of a man who has worked hard all of his life. how is that possible? The exhausted fireflies slowly shuffle though the sand. We foremen keep a watchful eye on him. As they board the bus. Everyone is exhausted from the heat and humidity. No one here has ever worked an oil spill before. All but two are from Florida. I collect the headlamps and check them off the list. Four-thirty. Unlike the rest of us newcomers. and struggle back up the beach to the bus with our equipment. He makes several trips to the parking lot where these bags are loaded onto a trailer for transport. We strike our camp. and he is trying to make his little girl happy. but keep a wary eye for his Gator . the surly actor of Paladin fame. sleeping in his car and the rumor is that he s just finished a ten year stretch in Angola Prison for killing a supervisor in a rage. a few young men and women from the more desperate neighborhoods. and the big man loudly protests that he s the hardest working member of the crew. the constant slogging though deep sand. he sports a battered red hardhat with stickers from jobs all over the world.marine biologist. and we start to wind it up for the night. Our pile of bags has grown to 845. Turns out he s very sick. His visage reminds me of Richard Boone. carrying our tools and surplus water. and has been in the oil business for decades.

I have seen the oil and fought it on the beaches. and go our separate ways. he has made Florida s drinking water and environmental issues the focus of his studies. I feel vindicated that I have made a small. so many make excuses and wistfully cite the futility or politics of the project. The tar balls and mats will continue to wash ashore for years after I have returned to my studies. We talk about our evening as we ride out. A U-Haul truck sits by the security shed. seeking an advanced degree in Florida Studies. BIO Christopher Klug is a USFSP graduate student. In just a few hours. He is married to Mary Klug. and the bus turns for the Port. The gear is unloaded by the same who loaded it. as my ancestors fought America s enemies on beaches in more deadly and desperate battles. conversation drops to a murmur. As we pull l through the gates. Petersburg. and to protect our Florida environment and way of life. I m just too tired and too numb. snores permeate the air and workers who probably don t know each other s names democratically rest their heads on each other in slumber. I find my two riders. and cannot sleep. sullenly stirring workers are reminded by Jen that if they leave the bus dirty. A pungent odor permeates the bus. The crew sleeps soundly. waiting to board the bus and do it all again. an acrid combination of overflowing bus toilet and perspiration. . Returning to his home State after a brief residency in Alabama. we will all collectively be fired. I will be back at the Port. personal effort to preserve my Florida. and the fireflies slowly disembark. I arrive at my motel about 7:30AM. a couple of homeless fellows that are sleeping in the woods behind a car wash off of Pace Avenue until payday. Lou-Lou and Captain Larry who doggedly labor to keep the weathered crude from our doorstep.As we set off for the staging area to unload. a fine and tasty contribution of Cracker Barrel. a man hands out Styrofoam boxes of breakfast. and resides in St. A large trash bag circulates fore and aft. and I admire and value the efforts of all those like Jen.

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