Harrison County

This Coast firefighter was healthy before cleaning up BP oil. Later, he couldn’t breathe.

A doctor in the office where Blaine McGill worked as a security guard noticed McGill was struggling for breath.

The doctor examined and treated McGill, who is in his 30s, eventually referring the former Long Beach firefighter to a pulmonologist.

“He was just perfectly healthy and then ends up almost dying from respiratory problems,” said McGill’s attorney, Matthew Lott of Pascagoula.

McGill is one of about 140 individuals whose lawsuits against BP have poured into the federal courthouse in Gulfport over the past 11 months, with the pace picking up significantly in February.

McGill and others claim they were exposed to dangerous chemicals while cleaning up after the April 2010 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig that BP was leasing in the Gulf of Mexico.

Most of the claims of physical injury are being processed through a settlement agreement approved in May 2012 in federal court in New Orleans, where the cases were consolidated. BP recently reported to the court that it had agreed by the end of 2018 to compensation for physical injuries in 22,839 cases, or 61 percent of claims filed.

Most of the cleanup workers have received settlements of $1,300 each, reporting physical illnesses that did not require overnight hospitalization, court records show. Cleanup workers who were hospitalized were entitled to higher amounts.

Under the settlement agreement, BP has the right to mediation with those who claim they were physically injured but whose conditions were diagnosed after the 2012 settlement cutoff date.

In the cases filed in South Mississippi and other Gulf states, BP decided against mediation, notifying claimants they could sue. The federal lawsuits are generally filed in jurisdictions where the claimants live.

Many of the South Mississippians suing are represented by Florida attorney Craig Downs or Texas lawyer Harold Nations, neither of whom were available Wednesday to discuss the cases.

Lott said that McGill’s case is the only one he has agreed to accept for litigation.

“I’ve turned down most of them,” he said. “(McGill’s) is a special case. “They are going to be difficult cases.

“Any time you have environmental exposure, you’re going to have to prove some nexus between the exposure and the disease. A lot of local physicians aren’t used to dealing with those things.”

McGill’s lawsuit says he worked the BP cleanup from May-July 2010 for a Long Beach company.

McGill and others filing lawsuits say they were not wearing proper protective gear while exposed to oil, dispersants used in the water to break up the oil, and other chemicals. McGill, who had previously been healthy, was diagnosed in October 2013 with severe asthma, chronic bronchitis and chronic sinusitis, the lawsuit says.

Other lawsuits also blame the chemicals, including the dispersant Corexit, for respiratory illnesses, thyroid cancer, chronic skin conditions, eye damage and other ailments.

BP reached the 2012 settlement without agreeing the company was responsible for illnesses suffered by cleanup workers and residents. In response to the lawsuits, BP says nothing the company did caused the illnesses, which were likely caused by factors such as pre-existing medical conditions or the claimants’ own negligence.