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"BP Makes Me Sick" grassroots effort to protect Gulf cleanup workers aims to prevent repeat of 9/11 worker illnesses (7/12)

A coalition of online organizers, local bloggers, politicians and other public figures have announced the formation of a Tea Party-style, "grassroots" political movement aimed at forcing BP to make clean-up workers wear respirators, so as to protect their health as they work along the Gulf Coast.

Called the “BP Makes Me Sick Coalition,” the group is layering a digital networking campaign on top of more traditional, offline political organizing tactics in hopes of building a mass movement against BP and those protecting the oil company from more stringent penalties.

"We cannot let the denial of protective gear that hurt so many 9/11 clean-up workers happen again with the Gulf clean-up workers," the coalition's Web site reads.

Will it work? Organizers are hopeful: some eight hours after announcing itself, the coalition had amassed more than 25,000 digital signatures on a petition urging BP to allow and distribute more protective clothing.

The Progressive Change Campaign Committee, the group behind the campaign, counts among its supporters local groups of Gulf fisherman; locally-elected Democratic officials including Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Fla., and national figures like Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., a co-founder of New York-based Riverkeeper Alliance, an environmental group. The group began organizing two weeks ago, after the first media reports of worker illnesses began surfacing.

CBS News issued a report saying that some 47,000 people helping to clean up the oil spill are at risk of respiratory problems from exposure to toxic fumes.

According to Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., clean-up workers are accusing BP of threatening to fire those who wear their own respirators. BP has not yet issued a public response to the allegations, nor has confirmed or denied the report.

The coalition's announcement isn't the first hint of worker anger: media reports about respiratory problems among clean-up crews have been surfacing for weeks. But the campaign is among the first to attempt using social media to bridge the gap between public awareness of a problem and political mass action to resolve it.

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