iOS app Android app More

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors
Jerry Cope

Jerry Cope

Posted: August 11, 2010 01:40 PM

When Steven Spielberg thrilled audiences around the world with the release of Jaws in 1975, who would have thought that the fictional scenario of a beachfront community faced with a mortal enemy threatening life and the summer tourist economy would be played out on an exponentially larger scale 35 years later in the summer of 2010 along the Gulf of Mexico. The credits now roll with BP's disastrous oil spill at the Mississippi Canyon 252 site as the Great White Shark, The Obama Administration and the Federal, State, and Local Authorities as the Town of Amity, and the lone rational voice of Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungasser as Chief Brody. But unlike the film and novel, along the Gulf Coast, the voice of reason has been drowned out by the unified assertions of BP and government officials that the situation is under control and the water and beaches safe for recreation and fishing.

Had not the Obama Administration chosen to allow BP to dictate the response to the massive catastrophe, the economic and long term impacts from the release of hundreds of millions of gallons of crude into the Gulf might have been manageable to some degree. But as it played out with millions of gallons of Corexit dispersants being sprayed by the US Coast Guard from C130s at night and from BP ships near the Source, deep underwater, and along the coast in order to put the oil out of sight; the devastation expanded across thousands of miles of the gulf and throughout the food chain onto the beaches and through evaporation into humans along the coast as well.

Charles Hambleton, Pierre LeBlanc and I arrived in the Gulf region in mid-July to investigate reports of a coordinated effort by BP and Federal and State authorities to cover up the tremendous loss of marine life due to the spill and dispersants being used to break down the oil so it would be out of sight. We quickly discovered that while the allegations of a cover-up of untold numbers of dead animals (Crime of the Century Part I ) was both dramatic and emotional it was the impacts on human health and welfare from the oil/Corexit mixture and the cover up of those realities that was the more important story. This was a story mainstream media seemed content to echo official sources on without any substantial effort to report on the large numbers of people sickened as a result of exposure to toxic crude and dispersant Corexit.

Robyn Hill and her husband moved to Gulf Shores Alabama from New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina to start a new life. Robyn landed her dream job as Beach Ambassador for the City of Gulf Shores. To see her talk about it, her eyes light up and a smile spreads across her face. But on the morning of June 10th she collapsed on the beach unconscious. She had been feeling ill with symptoms which are indicative of chemical exposure. She was taken to the Coastal Work Institute where the doctor spent 45 minutes explaining how she needed to sign off on her injury as heat stroke in order to avoid bad publicity and possible beach closures. Ms. Hill refused to cooperate. She remains very ill, and the local physicians unsure how to treat her condition. Dr. Riki Ott has been instrumental in connecting Robyn and many others with specialists around the country for advice and treatment for chemical exposure. Charles Hambleton and I spoke at length with Robyn Hill regarding her experience and health.
2010-08-08-P101066620100718at142248.jpg
Former Gulf Shores Beach Supervisor/Head of Security Beach Ambassador Robyn Hill by the Only Warning Sign on the Beach


We became aware that the oil was coming in and the City of Gulf Shores was going to keep it hush hush and that we were not supposed to say anything. To me it's like isn't this an ecological issue, shouldn't the wildlife and fisheries be out here. To me the guy who is the head of the lifeguards is not exactly the best guy to be saying hey the water is OK to be swimming in. He's not even an oil expert or anything. It behooved my intelligence to stand around and watch what the hell was going on, just waiting for it to happen. So Friday the oil was starting to hit. I work Monday through Friday. Over that weekend when I came back in Monday all my officers are telling me that they were getting sick over the weekend and that they saw people vomiting and that their own selves were vomiting. They were having a really hard time going through the process of working and what should they do about it. Should we report it? They were reporting to me I'm their supervisor I report it to our boss Coastal Security who has the contract with City Hall. So there's this OSHA trail - there's not one person you go to and say here's what's happening. It's like a train wreck because you tell one person and they are yeah, ok and then you tell the next person and they are like yeah, ok but nobody really cares at the end of the day they are like ok so you all are getting sick down there. OK fine. So Monday passes and I don't get sick but I am getting headaches. Tuesday and Wednesday I start to vomit. I go home I'm getting sick. I'm driving home from work and I am getting sick in the new Publix grocery store parking lot thinking what the hell is happening. This is right when the oil first started coming up. So i'm thinking shit this sucks because I really like my job. I'm like the coolest chick in the world I'm the head of the frickin' beach! Who doesn't want that job? And I am getting sick. Do I quit my job? I mean what the hell, is this going to go away? Are they going to give us something to make it stop? Who is going to come out and tell us this is not OK? I know for a fact my other guys are getting sick - macho big guys are getting sick too it's not just me. So we go through that process and I am telling them over and over gain that everybody's getting sick. The next week goes by and nothing. Nothing. Everybody is still getting sick. People are getting transferred. The next week comes around and again the Monday Tuesday nothing happens Wednesday comes and I pass out. I pass out. What happens is the night before I am getting ready to leave for work and one of the people from the Central Command - at this point they are coming in and setting up this base - at this point they had bought in tractors and the whole but we're not telling anybody what's up but we know what's going down. These sand sifters that take the oil out of the sand - you know not telling anybody what's the real deal, there's news media everywhere. We're not allowed to talk to them. We don't know what's going on. Even though we do, we're not supposed to tell people don't get in the water even though we have the briefing that says the EPA says there are chemicals in the water. So we are supposed to tell people go into the water at your own risk. So they have not posted the signs yet which say - it's a red sign and it's supposed to be posted but they never posted it. Why didn't they ever post it? Now it's posted but it was never posted until people really started getting sick. they knew the dispersant was already in the water.

JC: Who was actually responsible for posting the signs?

RH: The City of Gulf Shores. They actually told the head lifeguard Scott that they had ordered these gigantic signs that were supposed to go on the lifeguard stations that were the size of the lifeguard stations that were supposed to say chemical warning. They are not there - they are not there right now.

CH: Where are those signs? They must be somewhere unless they destroyed them.

RH: They just never put them out and it's disgusting. It's just disgusting because even to this day if you go up there and say can I go swimming they will say at your own risk. Well it isn't at your own risk. There is a chemical warning.

JC: Who is making that call, is it the mayor?

RH: The City of Gulf Shores.

JC: So it's the mayor who actually makes that call?

RH: That's right.

JC: It reminds me of Jaws. You got the mayor and......

RH: That is totally what this is! It is totally Jaws all over again.

JC: Instead of the great white shark you have an oil spill.

RH: It's not just the oil spill. It's the Corexit 9500. That's a big thing because the dispersants they are not telling the truth about. The fishing boats come out and they are supposed to go three miles out and they are coming right outside the swimming buoys and so are the planes. The reason we know that is we saw them. Now you might never catch them again, but we saw them the day that I passed out. The night before we saw the fishing boats right outside the buoys dropping it and I knew what they were doing because the girl who came form Central Command who was one of the hazmat girls who was working from Fairhope who was watching the workers said they are dropping the dispersant out. There that's what they are doing. I didn't know that she knew that. She said look, look what they are dropping right there and you could see it coming out of the thing. the next day I come in early in the morning. It wasn't hot I wasn't overheated. The chemical I could smell it...
JC: You could see them dropping it from shore?
RH: They were as close as the buoys that you can see how far somebody can swim out to.

JC: That's not far at all.

RH: Exactly. that's how close the fishing boats were dropping it.

CH: Tell me about what the doctor they took you to.

RH: I am in my hut which is small and the air gets all inside the hut I am in and I have no where else to breathe and knocks me out. The lifeguards come and get me. They say you need to get the fire department over here. I'm embarrassed. I'm like oh my God, these are my buddies I don't want to be that girl that can't handle her job. Oh shit, I am going to lose my job. Look guys just go away let me get some fresh air. So they take me to try and find some fresh air. We can't find fresh air! We can't find a spot of fresh air for me to go anywhere in the beach. So finally he says OK look I am calling them. So he radios them. You have to remember I work with the Fire Department, the Police, everybody I have the radio right there I know what's going on all the time too I know what they are doing on a regular basis. They come over and I am 158 over 100 blood pressure, I am normally 120 over 100, they are like you have to go tot the hospital right now. My boss shows up and he takes me to the workman's comp doctor. And the workman's comp doctor says you realize we all live in Gulf Shores and if we report you got sick from the fumes that we will create a problem and that would not be a good situation to have. You can't just say you got sick from the fumes. And I was like, I did, I am giving you the knife that stabbed me. The fumes were what made me sick. And he was like yeah but that would cause a problem for the City.
JC: He actually said that?
RH: Yeah. He eventually put down that I had fumes but that was only because I would not sign the paperwork.
2010-08-08-P101054720100715at114521.jpg

JC: How long did that conversation go on?

RH: A long time. Because I was wanting him to give me some medicine. I was scared. I was freaked out. I was totally scared I had no idea if I was going to make it though the night at that point. So we went through the process. I kind of turned it on him because here's this intelligent person trying to tell him what's going on and he is trying to make me think you are going to eat what I am telling you and I am saying no I am not. You are going to help me the way that I want you to. So I turned into like this sweet little southern girl and I was like, do you mean to tell me that all the - because - if like everybody got sick from all the fumes and everything that the town would turn into a ghost town and that we should be really worried about that huh? And he was like exactly. I was not going to get anywhere with this guy. You know I just need to get out of here and go home because he's more worried about a bigger picture.

Eventually I got my own doctor and I am on steroids and he understands I have toxins in my lungs.

After talking with Riki Ott who is one of the marine biologists from the Exxon/Valdez she said one of the hardest things for people to realize is that they are telling us that they don't know the long-term effects of these chemicals when in fact they do know the long-term effects and that's the bullshit of what is gong on here. The real long term effects are in the autopsies, the autopsies of the people who got sick. The people who died had lesions on their brains, the same lesions on their brains that the dolphins had. So there is such thing as long term effect to be proven outside of just the lung behavior.

This is my story but the story that pisses me off is that they are not stopping people form going in the water. This happened to me but it is going to happen to so many other people.


Drs. Kathleen Burns and Michael Harbut, who are providing information on the toxic effects of crude oil and dispersants through Sciencecorps are concerned that there are many more people like Robyn. Dr. Burns, a toxicologist, was contacted shortly after the spill by groups in Louisiana and Texas who needed information. She enlisted the help of Dr. Michael Harbut, a Professor of Medicine at Wayne State University who has treated many petroleum-exposed patients. Physicians from across the Gulf have requested information on diagnosis and treatment of chemically-exposed patients with a wide range of health problems. Information on the Sciencecorps website includes toxic effects of crude oil and dispersants and clinical evaluation information for medical care providers at Sciencecorps/crudeoilhazards.

Both doctors are very concerned that most Gulf residents and their health care providers haven't been warned about the hazards and don't have information on chemicals in the air and water. Dr. Harbut was asked Friday to speak with a boat captain who was vomiting blood. The Navy veteran, who didn't realize he needed immediate medical care, was encouraged to quickly get to an emergency room. His symptoms matched the kind of internal hemorrhaging that results from exposure to a dispersant ingredient. The captain, whose four crew members were also ill, reported that they were exposed to dispersant for the last two days while working near the shoreline.

Riki Ott's book, Sound Truth, describes many dispersant-exposed workers with similar health problems. Unfortunately, most Gulf residents are unaware of the health symptoms or how serious they are. Medical care providers have no training to recognize or treat damage caused by chemicals people are being exposed to. Information that should have been rapidly distributed throughout the region is not only absent, but government claims that no harm is occurring are causing confusion, illness, and serious delays in medical care.


Robin Young is a resident of Orange Beach and is partners in a rental property management firm there. She is one of the founders of Guardians of the Gulf and has been active in calling for assistance from BP and federal, state, and local officials to help the growing numbers of people sickened by exposure to the oil and dispersants.

JC: What has been your experience with the spill and its impacts on your community?

RY: It's surreal. Its frightening and astonishing the lack of support on the part of BP, and the government, state and local officials. It is one of the most hideous crimes and cover-ups. The businesses down here are not receiving the money that they were promised. They are not making us whole. One person walks in with legitimate paperwork and gets a run around for six weeks or longer as their business dies and they are forced to close their doors. And then somebody else walks in with a lack of paperwork and gets a big check. None of it makes any sense.

The health effects are the most frightening because everybody is sick and the doctors here don't know how to treat us. We are having a hard time finding doctors. We can hook up with doctors in Michigan and Colorado that can treat us. We are being told there is no cure for what we have that it is going to be a life long term of various illnesses.


JC: Are you sick yourself?

RY: Extremely sick to the point where I can only work a couple of hours a day before I just collapse in utter exhaustion from coughing and the flu like symptoms that you feel. I have no voice and it's totally wrecking my business because I can't function, I can't remember half of what I am supposed to do - I have to constantly write notes to myself. I am not able to go out and take care of the houses and guests like I used to do.

JC: When did those symptoms start effecting you?

RY: Approximately three weeks after the oil actually hit our shores. It started with the sore throat. The sore throat went from just being sore to feeling like you had a sock stuffed down your throat - kind of a gagging reflex - then it went to headaches, nausea, vomiting, occasional diarrhea, extremely lethargic, memory loss, to this horrible wet hacking cough that has literally made my entire body so sore from coughing so bad that it is really hard to function.

JC: How many people do you think are having similar symptoms and reactions to the conditions there?

RY: It's hard to put a number on it but from my location all the way up and down the coast, I would say 50% of the people are affected. Some people don't even know. They are walking around with a sore throat thinking it is summer allergies. I have asked this question of every toxicologist, scientist, and doctor I have talked to; why are some people sick and some not? It has to do with several things. Most of the time people who are as sick as I am have had bronchitis or pneumonia at some point in time in their lives so their lungs were already weakened. The other reason they think I have it so bad is that I spent three weeks or longer out on the boats out in the middle of the oil and dispersants with media and on the beach with the media doing interviews right next to the toxic mess and the fact that I live fifty yards from the back bay that is foaming and churning with dispersants. Then you have the rain coming down and you can see after it rains in the puddles and the water on the back bay this frothy mess which we are convinced is dispersant coming back down in the rain. I can go and walk my dog twenty minutes after its rained and be outside and within two seconds start gagging and coughing. Sometimes there is an odor and sometimes there is not.
2010-08-10-37359_1448369281874_1012455319_1281420_2424997_n.jpg Robin Young


JC: Are the health officials giving you any assistance?

RY: Absolutely none. First of all the mayors in Orange Beach and Gulf Shores, they should not have left our beaches open. They knew that what was coming in was not safe for anybody to swim. They kind of threw all of under the bus by not closing the beaches which makes you think that they came to some kind of agreement with BP because as it was pointed out to me not too long ago, for the mere fact that they did not close the beaches this whole entire time gives BP some ammunition when numerous ones of us file lawsuits for loss of income or loss of health. They threw us under the bus. No they are not doing anything. Even the doctors down here don't seem to be very proactive. Dr Burns from Sciencecorps has tried to make contact with numerous doctors down here trying to put them in touch, get them fact sheets to teach them how to take care of the health issues and no one is responding. No one. We had two media outlets down here which are two news stations that seem to keep going out and testing the water and showing things on the air but as far as the rest of the media, they just don't care. It is supposedly cleaned up and fine yet we get daily information flowing in from Louisiana, Mississippi, and here in Alabama that they are still spraying dispersants, that the oil is still coming in on the beach. They have photographs and pictures yet media says it's over, it's done, the well is capped.

JC: So what are you going to do?

RY: We are going to continue to fight. I would like to sit down with Obama and Lisa Jackson and ask them point blank, why? How can they live with themselves knowing that they have completely abandoned everyone here on the coast.....this disaster has affected everyone here on the coast and is slowly moving north and affecting people there and yet everyday that goes by our health and businesses are going down the drain and they continue to lie about the oil and the corexit and the damage it is causing. I challenge Obama and Lisa Jackson to come down here and lets give them a swim in the waters that they say aren't dangerous and feed them seafood fresh out of the gulf and watch them eat it! It won't happen, and what a bogus press release Obama had announcing he was going to eat Gulf seafood at his birthday bash. Does he really think at this point anyone believes that? Obama and every government and local and state official has tremendously let down the American people and they know we know that yet they do not care. Its sickening. The corruption and greed that are involved in this disaster far exceeds anything that you can wrap your mind around.


Gabriel McMillan was employed as a safety officer by BP subcontractor Meyer Engineering under yet another firm CTEH which contracted with BP to provide safety officers as well as industrial hygienists. McMillan's credentials are impressive; as a preventive Medicine NCO in charge 2nd Brigade 101st Airborne responsible for public health of 5000 soldiers at Fort Campbell and during two deployments to Iraq where he did air and water quality analysis and site assessments that went to the commanders in order to keep the troops healthy and prevent them from getting harmed by anything that was not associated with combat. McMillan resigned his position with Meyer Engineering because he was not allowed to perform his duties and ensure worker safety.
2010-08-11-Gabeoil20100717at1053041.jpg
Gabriel McMillan Photo by Charles Hembleton

GM: I don't think the way they are doing the monitoring is indicative of what people are being exposed to. The people that are working twelve hours a day seven days a week the OSHA permissible exposure limits are not designed for what we are being exposed to. They don't include absorption through the skin. They don't include ingestion which happens when the particles get in their mouth or nose. They don't include when somebody gets some on their hands and they eat a sandwich afterwards. But BP is only going by that number to determine whether or not we need to up our protective equipment and/or close the beaches. They need to do 24 hour monitoring for a week at a time monitoring what the peak levels are and what the sustained levels are. I know it's not being done by BP and I don't think it's being done by the EPA.

What happens is the guys are driving along the beach in an ATV and they take an instantaneous reading of what's going on right then and then they move on. And that is not indicative of what our people are being exposed to over the course of their work. The worst thing that could happen is for them to reduce the hazard classification and make it legal for people to be swimming in it without enough research to say it's safe. Whenever I was in the army and we had a concern that there could be a health risk, we took everybody out. We removed them completely and then we determined exactly what that risk was before we let anybody back in. It seems like a money thing. They are putting that value over people's health.

Have you seen the document preservation form BP is putting out? It's a legal document. They are asking us to sign it saying we will be let go if we don't sign it. It basically says that any document that we produce on this project becomes the property of BP and they can seize them
from us. They can take them off our computers, off our phones, and I am afraid something like Enron is going to happen where if it comes up that they may be liable for something ll of that information is going to disappear and employees are going to be legally bound to comply with that.

For many, this echoes of the poisoning of 9/11 cleanup workers, where chemicals, dust, and asbestos sickened so many. Most of those dying far too early of cancer and respiratory disease believed the lies they were told about the safety of the air. New York City's construction workers, electricians, and other tradesmen labored to pull order from terrorist-imposed chaos, usually without protective equipment. Studies of children whose parents were assured their schools and homes were safe are now underway, after reports of too many with cancer and other illnesses. Dr. Burns, who helped many 9/11 workers, worries that federal agencies are focused on studying health damage rather than reducing it. "Who decided that prevention, protection, and precaution are dispensable parts of public health" she asks, "while people are treated like specimens instead of valued members of our country?"

The total number of people sickened from exposure to the oil and dispersant will never be known. For BP employees and all of its subcontractors, reporting illness was grounds for and resulted in immediate termination. Dr. Riki Ott has seen this scenario played out before at Exxon/Valdez in Alaska. Since then, things have change somewhat, better for the oil companies as corporate influence in government has grown ever more pervasive, worse for the planet and every living thing in their way.

RO: When I first got down here in early May, I immediately heard from the workers at The Source. The fisherman and their families were telling me about strange common illnesses in an uncommon time and they wondered if maybe they should be worried. It was headaches, dizziness, nausea, sore throats, burning eyes, and of course everybody has had this at one time or another, but it did seem kind of weird that all the guys were experiencing these symptoms out working on the oil spill. At that point and time it was pretty much a continuous burn going on and dispersant flames flying close enough - too close - for the guys to be comfortable. I explained that this was exactly what had happened in Exxon/Valdez and then they got even more worried because they wanted to know what had happened to the Exxon/Valdez workers who got sick. The story is that Exxon pretty much gave people hardhats instead of respirators and then told them that they had the Valdez crud cold or flu like symptoms and if you want your job keep working. If not we'll give you a pink slip. So everybody said it's like a TB ward out there. Everybody is coughing red eyed and kept working. The fisherman kind of reacted the same way in that they have been through four major hurricanes in 5 years and they have no money left in the bank. Fishing was going to be closed so if the job was oil spill response they felt like they had to do it. But they also knew they were getting sick especially when I was telling them well actually that all of these illnesses did not get properly diagnosed. They didn't get properly treated and people ended up very sick with chemical sensitivity. Some of them 100% disabled - legally disabled - some of them dead.
JC And that's dealing with Exxon?
RO: Yes, that's all dealing with Exxon. So the workers said well what can we do? I was like, we need to get you respirators. It's been like this almost three months long saga now of BP consistently saying the workers do not need respirators. If you wear respirators your jobs will be terminated and people who get sick have food poisoning or heat stroke even though the symptoms are also consistent with chemical poisoning.

JC: Was the same dispersant, Corexit used on the Exxon/Vladez spill?

RO: We have some experience with Corexit 9527 from the Exxon/Valdez spill. The use was more limited and when we saw that it had a human health hazard in it we tried to shut it down. Unfortunately, all we were able to do is the oil industry changed the names of the product. They pretended it was a bioremediation compound to help the bacteria eat the oil. Still we only had 103,000 gallons of this industrial solvent essentially put on our beaches compared to over 2,000,000 gallons of it sprayed every day...

JC: Every day 2 million gallons?

RO: Every day for a total of 2 million gallons so far. There is fresh toxic dispersant being released every day on top of the oil. This is unprecedented. It has never been done in the world before at this rate over this long of a time. Nobody has absolutely any idea what will happen. What we do know is that dispersed oil is more toxic than undispersed oil and dispersed oil plus dispersant is more toxic than undispersed oil. We know that solvents, these are industrial solvents, they totally wreak havoc on the central nervous system of vertebrates, - birds, mammals, fish. We know that 2butoxyethanol it doesn't disappear right away. It stays. It solubulizes in oil and absorbs into biological tissue and then proceeds to wreak havoc. In people it is a fetal toxin. It creates blood disorders, liver and kidney problems. It's an endocrine disrupter, reproductive problems, the list goes on and on. This stuff was unleashed into the Gulf, and I have not seen the studies being done to tack where the dispersant is, how long it's going to be around, is it being taken up by different species in the ecosystem? The materials safety data sheet says that for Corexit 9500 it has the potential to bioaccumulate which means work its way up through the food web. We are over two and a half months in and the FDA still had no test for looking for 2butoxyethanol in fish, in seafood that was supposed to be harvested and put on the market. So its really this experiment of mammoth proportions that's been conducted in the Gulf without anybody's consent except the federal government. At what point do the people say this is an assault on my body, this is an insult to my freedoms and this has to be stopped? We never reached that point where we emptied the world's warehouse of Corexit 9527 just for example. Nobody has any idea about the air transport of this with the hurricane season now coming on.

One thing we do know is that these dispersants are industrial solvents and they make the oil worse. They break up the oil into little droplets and package the droplets in solvents, little bubbles of oil wrapped solvent floating around. The impellers of boats offshore are getting chewed up and engines are overheating. The impellers are hard rubber and this is what dispersants dissolve, they dissolve rubber oil and grease. The O rings of dive gear where people bring their dive gear into be repaired, the dive shops are saying well your O rings are all shot put your gear in the closet don't put it in the Gulf for the summer. Again, soft rubber this time getting chewed up. The people who have sent me photos or I have seen in person of rashes to the point of blistering and the blisters go below the dermis through subcutaneous and leave scars. Oil alone does not do this. This is much more likely to be the oil/dispersant package. The problem here is this stuff is coming in and there is virtually no monitoring for it in the air, in the water.


JC: It would seem to beg the question why is there not some serious documentation being gathered to try and collate that data and come to some kind of conclusion as to what are the exact impacts of having all these different compounds throughout the environment along the Gulf coast of the United States.

RO: What has happened is the federal government has managed - mismanaged I think really - this whole catastrophe. We don't seem to have the real time data 24/7 to show where is it different times of the day, what's coming in. What I am seeing is that there are people across the gulf who are sick and four federal agencies who cannot manage to find any levels that are not safe. I think part of the problem here is the federal government has not been sampling at night for starters. Because an air inversion gets started and pollutants get trapped near the surface at night.

Those pollutants have long-term consequences, since crude oil ingredients cause mutations, cancer, and birth defects. According to Burns, there is no justification for the federal government misleading people on something this fundamental. "People need honest information on air and water contamination, and how to minimize contaminant exposure. Your analogy to Jaws is right on target. The only difference is that this shark is often invisible and so we must rely on the government to tell us the truth. Instead we are awash in a sea of chemical lies."

Dr. Riki Ott on The Failure of Democracy in the Gulf

I think the real problem here is we have this pretend going on and the reason why is twofold. The oil industry does not want to admit that oil is this toxic even though they have known back as far as 1948 that the only safe level for benzene is zero because it is a carcinogen. And BP does not want to be held accountable for long term medical surveillance. Basically, if you have the data to show that this person or these people got sick because of this exposure the the spiller is actually required to do this long term medial surveillance and help the people, pay for the people to get better. What we're are seeing here is the same thing as Exxon/Valdez where there is a very intentional move by the oil company to dodge the long-term health monitoring requirements under our worker protection laws.

My personal experience was that within 48 hours of arriving in the Gulf Shores area of Alabama I began experiencing intense headaches and respiratory issues. Our entire team was affected to varying degrees. Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, sore swollen throats, difficulty breathing, chest congestion, and extreme gagging coughing reflex were typical for all of us. After our two days of flying over the gulf courtesy of Bonny Schumaker and WingsOfCare, my condition worsened. All of the leading edges of the plane were covered with a thick reddish-brown oily substance which was a mixture of the oil and dispersant which was evaporating over the Gulf. I stayed in the area the longest and developed Chemically Induced Pnuemonitis. Fortunately for me I was able to return home to clean Colorado air recently and have improved somewhat but for the numerous people who reside along the Gulf Coast the option to leave is not viable, and the long-term effects of the Corexit dispersants are unknown.

During his Presidential campaign Barack Obama ignited the hopes and dreams of a nation - the world - with his inspired speeches about making not the easy but the right choices; doing the right thing against challenges both great and ominous. The dreams he gave voice to have now been largely dispersed like the oil in the gulf by his administration's own particular brand of Corexit; the failure to deliver on promises and the embrace of secrecy over transparency. President Obama has shown himself to be a master media operative, a superior orator, but in the end just another politician answering to not the call of history but corporate interests.

Post script. Several friends who are influential in the environmental community urged me to exercise caution before heading to the Gulf and take it easy on the administration if I discovered information that would portray the Obama team in a bad light as the alternatives to him being in office are perceived by many as being worse. After hearing that I did my own informal survey of friends and acquaintances for their take on this and the best answer I got was from the head of one of the leading NGOs who said, "free passes are done, let fly Jer." Personally, I believe Obama is destined for the one term club. But sadly here's the rub; it never mattered anyway.

 

Follow Jerry Cope on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jercope