This week a comprehensive status report on the Gulf Coast was released by Save Our Gulf, an environmental coalition of members of Waterkeeper Alliance from the states of Louisiana, Florida, Mississippi, and Alabama. The report is called "The State of the Gulf: A Status Report from the Save Our Gulf Waterkeepers in the Wake of the BP Oil Spill".
The report documents the progress, current conditions and makes recommendations for the restoration efforts after the region experienced the worst environmental disaster in the history of the United States and is written from the perspective of the men and women who are Riverkeepers, Baykeepers, Basinkeepers, BayouKeepers, and Coastkeepers in the Gulf region, whose job on a normal day is to protect their individual waterways from polluters, no easy task I assure you. Since the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster in April 2010, there have been no normal days.
That day changed everything, for all of them, affecting all of their waterways, their job descriptions, their environments, the health, welfare and livelihoods of their families and communities. In fact, every single living organism in the Gulf was impacted by this disaster.
While it may no longer be nightly news, we learn from this report that the Gulf Coast environment and its surrounding communities continue to see this impact on a daily basis. Oil is still washing ashore along beaches and wetlands, state and local economies, household budgets are still suffering, health issues from exposure to the mixture of crude oil and the toxic dispersants are rising rapidly in local communities.
Waterkeepers in the region learned eight days after the explosion "the true scope of the oil disaster, being unlike anything this nation has ever experienced". And while BP was trying their best to minimize the information being reported to the public, Gulf Coast Waterkeepers immediately began speaking out to the media on the impacts to the environment, the health of the first responders working on the clean up effort and their communities.
We learn from the report that BP officials told first responders working on the cleanup effort that the environments they would be going into were safe and there would be no need for protective gear. Knowing this not to be the case, Lower Mississippi Riverkeeper began handing out protective gear to them only to be told by officials if they were caught wearing it, they would be fired.
Agreements created by BP for their Vessels of Opportunity program removed any right to liability and restricted workers from speaking to anyone about what they saw during the response. When questioned were asked about the toxicity and exposure to oil and dispersants in BP safety classes, answers were not provided.
Many communities were put in the impossible position, of being cut off from their generational right to earn a living, without any other means to pay their bills, were forced to sign contracts in order to just survive and are now living with the health related consequences.
The State of the Gulf indicates a rising number of people in these communities are becoming seriously ill and to date tells us and the fund BP set up to make the Gulf whole again, has not paid one health related claim despite this increasing level of illness being reported in the communities.
The report also speaks to the proclamation from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that the Gulf seafood was and continues to be safe for regular consumption. According to the testing results collected and analyzed by the Save Our Gulf Waterkeepers this proclamation may have been premature
More than 100 of aquatic organism tissue, soil, and water samples were taken from the Gulf of Mexico coastal areas from Louisiana to Florida and results take issue with the FDA's testing results and their proclamation of the safety of the seafood.
Save Our Gulf believes their test results conclusively show that comprehensive long-term environmental monitoring will be essential to understanding, protecting, and restoring the Gulf Coast ecosystem.
While progress has been made and restoration has most certainly begun its clear from this report there is a great deal of work to be done.
The Save Our Gulf Waterkeepers make several key recommendations for the continued restoration process in the State of the Gulf, they include; there should be long-term environmental monitoring; the need to recognize this as an ongoing disaster affecting both the nation and the Gulf Coast states; the need for citizen participation in restoration decision-making process; recognize the growing public health issues that are not being addressed and have to be; that all Clean Water Act fines have to be dedicated to Gulf Coast restoration.
Every one of these recommendations makes perfect sense and will offer the best possible chance for this critical region of this country to make a full and complete recovery.
Many of the issues discussed in this report I experienced when I went to the gulf a month after the rig sank with my friend Director Robert M. Young. Time and again members of the communities spoke candidly to us about their experiences, their frustrations and fears of being able to "just survive" this attack on their very existence. Many were terrified of the future when I spoke to them then and now over a year later their feelings have not changed, because for them, it's clearly not over.
I want to thank this coalition of Waterkeepers who continue to fight for their waterways and communities and for bringing their findings and recommendations in "The State of the Gulf" to our attention. I urge you to take a moment to read it to gain some perspective on the current environmental conditions and what these communities continue to experience today as result of this ongoing disaster.
Report is located at: www.saveourgulf.com
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