Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill; Pensacola Beach, Florida

While continuing her work from Spring 2021 to present in the Whistleblower Protection Clinic (WPC), UDC Law 3L Gloria Cannon is working with Congress to challenge the ongoing public health and environmental disaster resulting from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.  

In 2020, clinic students conducted an investigation for a people’s record from whistleblowers that confirmed public health effects from the spill are long-term. The resulting report supported successful litigation requiring the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to issue regulations controlling harmful compounds like Corexit, which BP used to disperse the oil. As an extended clinic student, Cannon assumed leadership on the project to prepare summaries and briefing packets, schedule appointments and teach congressional offices what they need to know for oversight and follow-up pressure. Congressional offices have been highly responsive to date. Clinic Director and Government Accountability Project (GAP) Legal Director Tom Devine ’80 said, “Thanks to clinic students creating a record of the truth from whistleblowers and getting it into the right hands, we’re confident we’re making a difference before there’s another tragedy.”  

The WPC, led by Devine, has been working to expose the health impacts of the spill since the Deepwater Horizon exploded and sank off the Gulf Coast of Louisiana nearly 12 years ago. UDC Law alum Adam Arnold was instrumental in the early days of the WPC’s efforts to change EPA regulations around compounds like Corexit, which Devine explained, “actually made the disaster worse. The dispersant fused with the oil to create a new compound 50 times more toxic than oil, which sank to the sea floor and turned large areas of the Gulf into an underwater death valley.” BP aerially sprayed Corexit on the cleanup workers, and its disastrous effects were seen across communities throughout the Gulf Coast. Some individuals exposed to Corexit experienced symptoms that included significant loss of lung capacity, lesions covering the body, seizures, migraines, substantial drops in cognitive function and extreme allergies to common household cleaners and food – often leading to severe weight loss. Devine said, “Victims are not waking up from this medical nightmare.” 

UDC Law is proud of its partnership with Government Accountability Project through the Whistleblower Protection Clinic, providing our students hands-on experiential learning and engagement with critical issues of public significance.  The Whistleblower Protection Clinic has been a longstanding clinical offering at UDC Law. Each semester, Devine supervises roughly eight students in a 7-credit clinic focused on understanding whistleblower protection laws and policies. Students conduct in-depth and intensive intakes, including legal analysis, to determine whether a claim can be made.  

UDC Law students engage in meaningful work with the WPC, which sometimes leads to post-graduate employment with GAP. For example, Kendrick Holley ’18 is a staff attorney for GAP’s Litigation Program, and his classmate Samantha Feinstein ’18 is a staff attorney and director of GAP’s International Program. Devine first got involved with GAP during his 2L year and started a clinic to engage his fellow students, including Don Aplin ’87, who is a staff attorney for GAP.  John Whitty ’17 was a staff attorney at GAP before assuming his current duties as Deputy Whistleblower Ombuds for the House of Representatives.   

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