"Almost all the clean up workers who worked on the Exxon Valdez spill are dead." Can this be true?

According to Peter Willcox, master of the Greenpeace ship M.V. Arctic Sunrise:

This shit can’t possibly be true, can it?

It’s the sort of thing that would justify every gut-level prejudice I have against the oil companies, *if *true. But you’d think that even in this era of corporate-controlled media, an outrage of this scale couldn’t have just been buried by being ignored. So it’s hard for me to believe it’s true. But I have to know, just the same.

So, fellow Dopers: anybody got the straight dope on this one?

I have no idea. But the construction of that quote is totally in “lies, damn lies, and statistics” form – all insinuation and no data.

RTFirefly, your link isn’t working for me. Here’s another link from Salem-News.com (Oregon) (with the relevant CNN footage).

ETA: Never mind about your link. It works. Just took my computer a long time to download for some reason.

In the CNN clip, it is not CNN “reporting” this fact, it is an interviewee asserting it.

It’s not an insinuation, it’s a series of statements of purported fact:

a) 11,000 Exxon Valdez cleanup workers.
b) Most of them are now dead.
c) Average lifespan 51 years.

Those purported facts are either true or false. It’s a set of claims that’s easily falsifiable. The only insinuation is the link to Corexit, but let’s leave that out of it. I’m just asking about b and c above.

And thanks, spoke-, for tracking down the CNN video and pointing out that it wasn’t CNN reporting those stats.

What percent is “almost all”?
What were causes of their deaths?

Until I know these answers, the “fact” as stated has no context and is effectively meaningless.

It’s not like oil is radioactive or something? Unless they were cleaning it all up while nude, I can’t see how the oil would have resulted in the early deaths of the workers.

Facts that even if all true have absolutely no meaning by themselves.

How many is “most”? What did they die of?

So what about average lifespan? Averages can be thrown off by a single outlier.

It has now been at least 20 years since the spill. How do death rates compare to other populations of people after 20 years? If it is unusual, is there anything else about the people or their environment that could account for this?

It’s all statistical hash, in exactly the same way that conspiracy theorists do it.

There is an implication that something here had something to do with the oil spill, but no actual claims and no data that might support any such claims.

I’m not asking about causes. The Exxon Valdez spill was only about 20 years ago. The vast majority of people young and healthy enough then to have worked on the cleanup should still be alive, or at least that’s what the actuarial tables would tell you. Hence we probably can avoid a semantic debate over “almost all.”

This is GQ. I’m not here to debate meaning. I’m here to find out if these things are facts, or not.

If it turns out these are indeed facts, we can debate their meaning in GD. That’s what it’s there for.

I don’t think you can calculate the average lifespan of an Exxon Valdez spill worker until they are all dead. Otherwise you could say something like the average lifespan of the people who work in my office is 45. Oh my god I’m living on borrowed time!!

Just at a guess, but could it be that the average lifespan of Exxon cleanup workers who have already died is 51? That number would naturally be low, since the ones who live longer wouldn’t be included in it yet.

I couldn’t find any cite to back up the claim that most of the cleanup workers are dead. I did however find a lot of posts all over the internet by people who had tried to find a cite for it and had also failed.

The story has been widely repeated through a lot of supposedly reputable news sources, but none of them bothered to check facts either. Instead they just repeated the claims and quoted their source.

I found one web page where someone was wondering where the magically specific number 51 came from, and said that this was actually the average age of the workers while they had been working on the spill (which means unless a significant number of them dropped dead on the spot it would be impossible for that to be their average lifespan). There was no cite for where this information came from either though.

So the GQ answer is that this is, as far as I am able to determine, unsubstantiated, and that’s all there is to it.

I can’t say that it isn’t true. All I can say is that I could not find any evidence at all to support it.

My IMHO answer however is that this looks like a rather prolific exercise of bovine scatology. It looks like someone is making up statistics to support a specific political/personal cause.

Here is an article that claims the health effects of Exxon Valdez cleanup workers was never studied. The claim is made by a lawyer who was preparing a class action lawsuit that failed to materialize due to a lack of data.
http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2010/06/29/96782/health-of-exxon-valdez-cleanup.html

Considering that a large number of cleanup workers were transients, unless someone spent a lot of effort tracking them down, I don’t see how any claim like the OP can be made. The data just doesn’t seem to be there, one way or another.

The lack of data is going to make this difficult to debunk, but it also is a strong indication that the numbers involved were rectally generated.

I’ve done the obvious thing and emailed Greenpeace to ask.

Here are some details (not many, and nothing of anything scientific value IMO) on the health affects of the Exxon Valdez clean up. No actual numbers but it does say:

That is a long way from the “almost all” quoted in the OP. As for the “average age” thing, I’m with Manduck he’s comparing the average of the people who have died in a small (and relatively young) group and comparing it with mortality statistics for the entire country. That is meaningless (and is used in thiskind of BS)

I agree with what others have said. The “average lifespan” statistic doesn’t apply in this situation. The fact that it was used is a sign that the speaker was trying to deceive people.

I’d like to see a cite for the death rate and serious illness rate of the 11,000 cleanup workers compared to the same rates for a comparible control group.

Here’s a quick illustration of why “average lifespan” is deceptive.

Consider the original cast of Saturday Night Live in 1975. There were eight original members and their average age in 1975 was 29.

Three members of that cast have died. Now it might be statistically significant that three out of eight people in a group from 1975 were dead in 2010. But how are you going to predict the “average lifespan” of that group? The three that have died had an average lifespan of 43. But the five who are still alive may all live into their nineties.

“Average lifespan” is sometimes used when average age at death, for those who have died is meant. Yes, it’s misleading, but the story at hand is a long way from the first example I’ve seen in the media of precisely this mislabeling.

Well, I worked on the so called “cleanup” of the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill and half of my friends did and we are still alive. I am 55. I do know some people who were on the front lines dispersing Corexit who now have unexplained health issues like weird rashes on their backs from where they carried the chemicals.

One sad fact is 20% of the fisherman/plaintiffs died in the 20 + year span before Exxon paid any money. (I’m looking for a cite on this)

The guy who made this claim over at the link in the OP now provides this link to a ProPublica report as justification, saying absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence.

All that’s at the link is a statement that “many cleanup workers from Exxon Valdez — then, and even now — report health problems that they trace back to their work on that spill” and noting that neither the government nor Exxon has done any long-term study of the health of those involved in the Exxon Valdez cleanup.

IOW, he’s got nothin’. I think we can call game over on this one. Thanks, y’all. :slight_smile: