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Feinberg Says He Hasn't Seen Illness Claims

BATON ROUGE (CN) - Kenneth Feinberg, administrator of BP's $20 billion fund for oil spill damages, told a Louisiana House and Senate committee on Monday that he hasn't processed any claims for sicknesses related to the oil-spill cleanup - or even seen any.

Thousands of people on the Gulf Coast say they are sick from exposure to oil and the toxic chemical dispersant Corexit during the oil spill last summer. But Feinberg told the committee he hasn't seen any such claims. Feinberg said that health effects related to the spill might not show up yet for years - perhaps well after the Gulf Coast Claims Facility, he is paid $1.5 million a month to oversee, closes up in 2013. But a Houston attorney representing 15,000 people Gulf Coast residents with oil spill damage claims told Courthouse News today (Wednesday) that he has 200 clients alone who say they are sick from the oil spill. Describing all his clients' claims as "strong," Tony Buzbee said all 200 claims for sickness will be filed with the Gulf Coast Claims Facility, or GCCF.  "I haven't formally filed them with Feinberg, but we have discussed them and I expect I will work with him to settle them," Buzbee said.   "I have been working through all my claims with the GCCF," Buzbee said.  He said he expects all his claims will be settled in 6 months.  "There were a bunch of people who were exposed to Corexit who were made sick," Buzbee said. After the Deepwater Horizon exploded on April 20, 2010, more than 1.8 million gallons of Corexit was dumped onto the spill, to disperse the oil. Cleanup workers who were exposed to Corexit and oil after the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill off the coast of Alaska suffered respiratory ailments, blood disorders, kidney and liver failure, and fertility problems. Dr. Susan Shaw, an independent marine toxicologist and director of the Marine Environmental Research Institute in Blue Hill, Maine, said in a previous telephone interview that from a toxicology standpoint, dispersed oil is more toxic than oil by itself. Shaw said what was supposed to happen with Corexit didn't happen. BP sprayed and injected the toxic dispersant on the oil, expecting to disperse it into the water rather than float on the Gulf's surface. But rather than simply disperse the oil, the Corexit caused the oil to change into massive subsea plumes. Shaw said that dispersants work by breaking the outer membrane of cells - organs and oil alike. Shaw said in areas in close proximity to the oil, for instance, in Grand Isle, La., known as "ground zero" of the oil spill, residents who take blood tests show high levels of solvents. Corexit and all other dispersants are essentially that - solvents. During a New Orleans oil spill symposium in April, a man who said he was seriously ill from oil and dispersants asked Feinberg for help. But Feinberg was tentative about whether his medical claim would be paid through the GCCF. "Do you have workers' compensation or Social Security?" Feinberg asked.   Sabrina Canfield Courthouse News Service June 8, 2011