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Louisiana Shrimper Breathes Dispersant, Gets Sick, and Goes Back to Work for BP

Fourth-generation Louisiana shrimper Doug Blanchard went to work for BP driving his "vessel of opportunity" through oil and dispersant — until he went to the hospital with dizziness, nausea, and other symptoms. So why is Blanchard hoping to get back in it as soon as his doctor lets him?

Louisiana shrimper Doug Blanchard

Douglas Blanchard is captain of the "Big Tattoo." He's a fourth-generation shrimper who learned the trade from his father (who died of cancer this year). It's all he'd ever done before BP's Deep Horizon well started spewing crude into the Gulf waters where he made his livelihood. Now he's paid by BP to scout for oil slicks drive through it, and help call in other boats to skim it with booms.

But after driving through oil seemingly treated with dispersant, he got sick. When we talked to Blanchard, he was eagerly awaiting a doctor to clear him to go back to work... in the oil and dispersant fumes.

When he was first taken to the hospital, several major news outlets called for an interview. When Blanchard's wife told them that he was feeling better and not upset—and that BP was taking care of their bills—nobody called them back. Blanchard was reluctant to talk, anyway, not for fear of retribution from BP (they'd never asked him to sign a nondisclosure agreement or told him not to talk to the media, he says)—he just didn't want to badmouth the oil company. His goal amid everything going on in the Gulf since April 20 was one we heard frequently: He just wanted to work. There's a pride in being one of the ones helping fix the situation, he said.

His concern is that a media outlet will "chop up his words to tell the story that they wanted to tell," he said. So we agreed to minimal edits in this video. We agreed to avoid chopping up questions and answers and we left the questions audible for the sake of context.

Since this interview, Blanchard's doctor has given him the all clear. BP now has a doctor check him every time his boat comes in, mainly his blood pressure. (So far so good.) As you watch this, it's likely Blanchard is steering the "Big Tattoo" through a greasy patch of oil.

Interview by Ryan Marshall, Video by Mike Marshall/Category 5 Films

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  • Mike Hernandez

    Gosh I really feel for this poor guy. He reminds me of my father, a man trying anything he could do, sacrificing everything he can just to put food on the table. I hope that he and all the men in his position are taken care of and not dismissed or forgotten.

  • david wayne osedach

    Sounds like the man is concerned about putting food on the table and paying his rent. What other options does he have?

  • Chris Reich

    This is good. What we have to remember is that when you get a lot of people in the same place, seeing the same event, each will have their own perspective. Some will run this through a bias filter. Even those who watch the video will be divided on what it "really" means.

    And, within BP there are good people and no so good people. So there probably are BP people who aren't representing the company as well as Tony Hayward would like. That's going to happen when people are called into a scene to do work who are not practiced at dealing with others outside of the company. There wasn't much time to conduct PR training.

    What's key is to be aware of is that stories from a single event will vary.

    Finding the truth? As the story continues to unfold that there will be many truths and some will conflict. I'm sure some workers were told not to talk to the press and that was construed as a gag order. But thousands of people with a story to tell is a powder keg.

    Good luck to residents affected by this mess. I hope we continue to work with urgency on eliminating our need for fossil fuel.

    Chris Reich