Who do you trust?
Who do you believe?
Who’s looking out for you and who is not?
Such are the questions in the Gulf Coast, about the claims process and the safety of Gulf seafood. In the federal version, the seafood is fine, the FDA is doing their testing and everything is coming up aces while Feinberg is doing his best as a neutral arbitrator and quickly trying to get as much money as he possibly can into the hands of a beleaguered public. Justice is running its course, and all of the companies involved in the BP oil catastrophe will be legally obligated to make amends and pay their fair share towards restoring the pristine waters of the Gulf back to their only kind-of polluted state. British Petroleum is cleaning up the oil, using all the manpower it deems necessary to do so. In a show of confidence, the federal government has urged the armed forces to start using Gulf Seafood to feed the troops.
Obama is silent on most of these issues and on vacation in Hawaii, so no worries…the Secret Service won’t allow for anymore shirtless president photos to grace the AP wire.
Sounds pretty good.
Course then there’s this:
An environmental law firm in New Orleans said it was preparing to challenge the government’s public declaration that following the nation’s worst-ever oil disaster, seafood from the Gulf of Mexico remained safe to eat. Stuart H. Smith, Esq., of the law firm Smith Stag, LLC., was leading the charge, rallying additional litigants to his side through a website called Oil Spill Action.
One of the toxicologists on Smith’s litigation team pursuing BP was Dr. William Sawyer…he’s calling the Food and Drug Administration’s safety test “little more than a farce…they did not test the [total petroleum hydrocarbons] (TPH) in their samples,” he said, calling his testing methodologies a much more comprehensive way of examining compounds present in seafood when compared to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) tests.
Dr. Sawyer added that some of his test samples came from seafood on its way to market, pulled from waters that had only recently been classified as safe for commercial fishing activities. “The sensory test employed by the FDA detects compounds that are volatile that have an odor; we’re detecting compounds that are low volatility and are very low odor,” he added. “We found not only petroleum in the digestive tracts [of shrimp], but also in the edible portions of fish. We’ve collected shrimp, oysters and finned fish on their way to marketplace — we tested a good number of seafood samples and in 100 percent we found petroleum.”
Among the people represented in his suit are everyone from seafood retailers to crabbers to real estate developers, and they continue to add plaintiffs, all targeting BP, Transocean, Anadarko, MOEX Offshore and Halliburton.
Said Dr. Shaw, a marine toxicologist at the Marine Environmental Research Institute in Maine about exposure to the crude oil in the Gulf, “There is no safe level of exposure to this oil, because it contains carcinogens, mutagens that can damage DNA and cause cancer and other chronic health problems…many people in the Gulf have been exposed for months — not just workers but residents. There are hundreds of health complaints from local people with symptoms that resemble symptoms of oil exposure. It will be years, possibly decades, before we understand the extent and nature of the health effects caused by this spill.”
Meanwhile, Feinberg and the GCCF’s claim process continues to get its fair share of criticism.
In an Op-Ed written by the Alabama attorney General, Troy King and published in the USA today, King writes “Gulf Coast Claims Facility Administrator Kenneth Feinberg cannot be trusted. While Feinberg has tried to persuade residents of the Gulf Coast that he works for them — referring to himself as their advocate and friend — he was hired by BP, his law firm is being paid $850,000 a month by BP, and every action he has taken has benefited BP….regrettably, throughout this process Feinberg has dragged his feet, admittedly applying uneven criteria to many well-documented claims from businesses on the verge of bankruptcy and closure, thus pressuring business owners to take whatever small compensation he offered.”
And from an editorial in Sunday’s Times-Picayune:
Nevertheless, Mr. Feinberg promised that legitimate applicants could expect to receive money within a day or two. Yet, many applicants have languished for months without receiving anything, and Mr. Feinberg appears loath to blame his organization for that. If a person’s been waiting for money since August, he told The Times-Picayune, there must be something wrong with the application. “All I can say is there’s a very, very good reason for it.” Apparently not so good a reason that he can share it with frustrated applicants. Mr. Rogers (a claimant) says he doesn’t know why he hasn’t gotten a payment.
Mr. Feinberg’s presence here along the Gulf Coast is supposed to guarantee that people with legitimate claims can get damages they’re owed by BP without having to give a portion of it to a hired lawyer. Yet, hundreds of people were so frustrated with Mr. Feinberg’s slow pace that they lined up in the cold this month to sign over a third of any money they get to attorney Tim Porter if Mr. Porter can help them secure the money. That should be a sign to Mr. Feinberg how frustrated people are with him and his organization.
In response, Feinberg has hired several law firms and a claims administration company to help people in applying for final claims. The law firms will be set up in offices across the Gulf Coast and though Feinberg has now promised to release the methodology the GCCF is using to approve or deny claims and determine how much each claimant is given, as of yet these guidelines have not been posted to the GCCF website.
So again, who do you trust? Who are the people in the Gulf Coast supposed to trust?
Its a hard question with no easy answer.
The government has never appeared to play it straight with the Gulf since this thing started. Be it flow rates, the waffling of Thad Allen, the exceptions granted every time to BP to continue spraying dispersants while maintaining their categorical use had ended. It’s also the ridiculous oil spill numbers they released, the NOAA’s opening of water for fishing only to find newly discovered oil and then the immediate closing of the same waters. There appears to be an overall refusal from the beginning to acknowledge adverse health effects of the crude or the chemicals. They appeared complicit in BP’s refusal to allow the press in to cover the story. The NOAA seems virtually incapable of finding oil on the seafloor while for the University of South Florida, this appears to be no problem. The government withholds information from the public at every turn and Barack Obama? Besides a brief swim and a couple of speeches has been absent from the Gulf of Mexico.
These things are glossed over in the official version of events, but we are told to trust the FDA that the seafood is safe despite the increasing clamor from independent scientists like Dr. Sawyer who believe this isn’t the case.
Meanwhile, Feinberg has been a colossal disappointment at best and his solution to his own failure is to hire more attorneys to advise plaintiffs on what to do. If British Petroleum pays Feinberg, then British Petroleum is paying these new legal advisers as well. And if it is in both BP and Feinberg’s interests to settle claims without suing BP, why would a plaintiff be anymore inclined to trust the new legal help?
Personally, I worry about a bunch of attorneys running down to the Gulf to sign up plaintiffs for lawsuits and take a healthy chunk of any compensation that should all be going to the plaintiffs, but at this point what other option exists? Trusting Feinberg?
So who do you trust?
In my estimation, you trust your own instincts and the people who want the truth, and not just best case scenarios. If the seafood is safe, even though not legally necessary, why doesn’t the FDA do the more thorough testing to prove their point? If anything, just to reassure the public because isn’t that the whole point of the FDA saying the seafood is safe? To reassure the public? And Feinberg…Good lord, where to begin…if he had been more up front, more realistic, more consistent and most importantly, transparent…Gulf Coast residents would not have felt it necessary to hire their own attorney, but Feinberg has been none of these things and if it were me, much as I don’t want to say it, I’d be making some phone calls. At least then I would know for sure the attorney is on my side.
It didn’t have to be this way, but through the unfortunate actions/inactions of Feinberg, the government and their collective agencies, now it is.
Have a nice day.