Do offshore workers deserve clean water?

With all the discussions in the press about the Flint water crisis, we ask the question: Does the community of people living and working on an offshore platform deserve the same access to clean safe water as the residents of a community on land?

Flint Michigan: A wake-up call for corrosion in potable water systems

In a failed 2014 cost-cutting attempt, the city of Flint Michigan changed their source water from Lake Huron to the Flint River. This seemingly minor change in source water resulted in a significant increase in corrosion problems. Although corrosion is often considered a cosmetic issue, this crisis shined a light on the devastating health consequences of corroded pipes. In the case of Flint, the lead levels leaching from the corroding infrastructure caused a significant increase in the number of children with elevated levels of lead in their blood. Heavy metals in drinking water can lead to a whole host of other serious health problems as well, for both children and adults.

One of these other health hazards, possibly caused by the corroded pipes in Flint, was an outbreak of Legionnaire’s disease that killed over a dozen people. Legionnaire’s disease is a virulent form of pneumonia caused by bacteria that can multiply in water systems. Unlike most waterborne illnesses, Legionnaire’s is spread when people inhale the mist containing the bacteria. This can easily happen when taking a shower. People over 50 as well as current and/or former smokers have an increased risk of contracting Legionnaire’s.

Offshore Platforms: A community at sea

Offshore platforms and drilling rigs are, in essence, small communities of people living and working at sea. Just like in any community potable water system, elevated corrosion problems are commonly found in rig and platform potable water systems. For the most part, there seems to be far more concern about the potential for mechanical damage and/or cosmetic issues that result from corrosion, than any worry about water safety. Perhaps it’s because there is no shortage of bottled water on board so workers and management don’t see corrosion as a safety issue. Or perhaps it is the “tough guy” mentality of this community telling us “a little orange water can’t really harm anyone.” Regardless, we should learn from the catastrophe in Flint and make sure we don’t willingly expose ourselves to the same health hazards that have caused so much pain and misery for the people living in the community of Flint.