Two scientists, hired by a New Orleans law firm to conduct independent research in the Gulf, say they recently received some intimidating phone calls from attorneys representing the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling. WWL-TV in New Orleans reports that Dr. William Sawyer, a Florida-based toxicologist, and Marco Kaltofen, a scientist and head of Boston Chemical Data in Massachusetts, began receiving calls from the commission after posting data online that showed alarming levels of toxic hydrocarbons in water column. The researchers were both hired to conduct their studies by the New Orleans-based Smith Stag law firm, which specializes in environmental and personal injury law and has been assisting landowners and commercial fishermen in filing claims against BP. Sawyer and Kaltofen claim the commission attorneys asked if there research was meant to disprove findings by the federal government or impugn the commission and then began questioning whether the scientists had all the necessary permits to continue their work.
The oil spill commission was established by President Obama in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon tragedy to study the cause and impact of the spill, and make policy recommendations based on their findings. In response to the accusations, Commission Press Secretary Dave Cohen released a statement to WWL noting that Sawyer was "...One of many experts with whom we were having discussions to gain insights and possibly serve as expert panelists before the commission.... We deeply regret if any question we may have asked created a misunderstanding."
The incident has already prompted Congressman Joseph Cao of New Orleans to call for a Congressional investigation into the matter. Cao released the following statement in a press release last night:
Today, I was informed that attorneys from the President's oil spill commission were contacting independent researchers who are studying the Gulf's toxicity and possibly attempting to suppress their findings by questioning the researchers' permit status. I also found out WWL-TV has uncovered information which appears to contradict statements made just yesterday by federal representatives that there is no contamination in Gulf seafood. The public has a right to know whether or not the water and our seafood are safe based on the best data available. I'm concerned the Administration is not taking this issue as seriously as it should be. So I have decided to call for an investigation by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, on which I sit.