Perhaps like many of you reading this article, I seek to find the truth behind the BP oil spill. What is the aftermath of this spill? What do I need to be concerned about for my health and the health of my community? And perhaps most importantly, what is being done about it and how can I help? As a case manager who worked to support local fishermen, I’d like to provide some information on some sad and real consequences of the spill, and also let you know how you can be a force of positive restoration.
First, I think it is important to remind ourselves that the consequences of the oil spill are still unknown and will unfold for many years to come. In just one year, it is clear that the losses the local communities face take the form of people shutting down their businesses and livelihoods, their homes, and worst of all, their physical and mental health due to toxins and stress. Many are bankrupt from medical bills (which most believe resulted from their forced exposure to the oil and dispersant), and are not able to afford health insurance. BPs response to claims has been slow (only 2 of the 20 billion dollars available have been distributed while people’s needs continue to be unmet).
Some of the most alarming consequences of the spill are the health effects that resulted from exposure to Benzene (the toxic carcinogen in crude Oil), and the Corexit Dispersant, but perhaps even worse was the slow response to fund the restoration of the people and ecosystems along our coast. Local workers who helped clean-up after the spill said they were denied face masks and respirators by BP management, although BP officials deny this. The same was said to be true for the fishermen that worked on the boats cleaning the oil spill and laying boom. There are many testimonies of BP oil workers and Gulf Coast residents that have been recorded that explain this.
Immediately after the spill, BP executives decided to spend $50 million dollars to create commercials assuring the public of quality clean-up efforts and healthy seafood; BP also bought ads on the Google search engine so their website would come up every time someone would search for information regarding the oil spill. While this money was spent on marketing, the people and our local ecosystems o the Gulf community continued to live without jobs, health care, and environmental safety.
There is growing evidence of local patrons suffering from toxic exposure. In Orange Beach, Alabama, Lisa Nelson started experiencing symptoms typical to exposure to Benzene and Corexit Dispersant. Her symptoms continued to worsen over several months since her visits to the beach in September. Some believe she was suffering from chemical poisoning, which led to her death on March 6, 2011. You can view her personal testimony here. The numbers of acute sicknesses, miscarriages, and deaths are increasing in this community, and thanks to local and independently funded research scientists and organizations, hard and trustworthy data is finally becoming accessible to the public that are most affected by this.
In fact, the Louisiana Bucket Brigade recently released the Self-Reported Health and Economic Impact Survey (www.labucketbrigade.org) which analyzed four Southeast Louisiana parishes to determine health and economic effects from the disaster. It also touches on the potential health effects related to exposure to the two different forms of Corexit (Appendix A.1.3, pg 90), both of which are still being used. The symptoms to Corexit exposure is not easily established through Internet searches, and Nalco, its creator, will not admit them. Like cancer epidemics anywhere, it is difficult to point to the direct cause of such sickness, but one can’t help but consider the obvious correlation between toxic pollution and increasing health concerns.
In addition to the human devastation of the spill, the ecological damage was vast. Fisheries and oyster beds have closed, and fishermen are not even eating the fish that they catch, fish that the FDA is declaring to be safe for the public, for fear of loss of tourism. According to Kieran Suckling of the Center for Biological Diversity, over 6,000 sea turtles, 26,000 marine mammals including dolphins and porpoises, and 82,000 sea birds have died—and will continue.
What you can do
In searching for the truth amongst such a large-scale and complex disaster, there are not always clear answers. But one thing is sure: there is no difference between “us” and “them.” It’s easy to remove ourselves from the equation of this problem without direct experience, but the reality is that our storm season is quickly approaching. A hurricane (knock on wood) could carry the toxins into our already fragile water system, if this is not already the case. This spill affects us all. It’s time that we reach out to our family members and friends outside of this area – the bigger “us” to help educate them on this issue. It’s time we take responsibility for our own habits in relation to energy consumption and living well. It’s time for not just individuals to respond, but for corporations everywhere to take responsibility for their social and environmental impact, expected and unexpected. It’s time we hold them accountable for this.
Martin Luther King, Jr. says, “The supreme task is to organize and unite people so that their anger becomes a transforming force.” Will you be part of this transforming force? It’s time.
If you would like to help the Gulf Coast Community, please see the organizations you can contribute to, below:
In addition, we are forming a community action group to help educate the community and take direct action ourselves. If you are interested in joining us, please email Lindsey Boettinger at: GulfCourage@gmail.com.
To learn more about BPs Perspective, see their website:
For more information and opportunities to take action locally, see these videos: