Dahr Jamail
Al Jazeera

A simple swim in the Gulf of Mexico has complicated Steven Aguinaga’s life in ways he could have never imagined.

In July 2010, Aguinaga, now 33-years-old, had gone on a vacation with his wife and some friends to Fort Walton Beach, Florida. After he and his close friend Merrick Vallian went swimming in the Gulf, they both became extremely sick from what Aguinaga believes were chemicals in BP’s oil and dispersants from the largest marine oil spill in US history that began in April 2010.

The 4.9 million barrels of oil spilled into the Gulf continues to affect people living near the coasts of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida.

Compounding the problem, BP has admitted to using at least 1.9 million gallons of toxic dispersants, which are banned by some countries, including the UK. According to many scientists, these dispersants create an even more toxic substance when mixed with crude oil.

Aguinaga’s blood has tested positive for high levels of chemicals present in BP’s oil, and he described his ailments to Al Jazeera.

“I have terrible chest pain, at times I can’t seem to get enough oxygen, and I’m constantly tired with pains all over my body. At times I’m pissing blood, vomiting dark brown stuff, and every pore of my body is dispensing water.”

His symptoms mirror those which scores of other Gulf Coast residents have told to Al Jazeera, all of them also having had their blood tests reveal chemicals in BP’s oil.

Yet Aguinaga’s hardships have not ended with his health problems.

“After we got back from our vacation in Florida, Merrick went to work for a company contracted by BP to clean up oil in Grand Isle, Louisiana. Two weeks after that he dropped dead.”

New battles

This Spring Aguinaga filed a lawsuit against BP in hopes of obtaining compensation for his deteriorating health.

Aguinaga’s attorney encouraged him with the prospect of setting a precedent for other health-related lawsuits against BP. But instead of bringing Aguinaga relief, the process has turned his life upside down.

Within 30 days of filing the lawsuit, Aguinaga had his home in Hazelhurst, Mississippi broken into.

“I found the Norton Security alert on my laptop warning me that someone had tried to access my information, and the door to my house was left open,” he explained. “I think somebody wanted me to know they could get in easily.”

Aguinaga’s employer, Star Services, who had placed him on workers’ compensation for a work-related injury, cut off his cheques after he filed the lawsuit against BP.

According to Aguinaga, both he and his wife are being followed, while in early September a truck tried to run him off the road near a bridge.

Three of his four security dogs were recently killed, and the fourth was stabbed.

While Aguinaga’s story is the fodder of conspiracy theorists, it has precedent.

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