For over a year now, ever since the oil spilled, the Gulf Coast has suffered from a deluge of promises that have been left unfulfilled. We hear talk of making things right, of actions not words, various members of Congress and a President declare their disgust with British Petroleum but all the same, pass no bills to change the unfortunate status quo and make it any safer. Ken Feinberg promises to be more generous than British Petroleum, makes claims to neutrality…also false. Residents were told Nalco’s corexit dispersant was safe as dish soap, the seafood is just fine and everything will be right by 2013.
No, no and no…
So, what might it take to change things around?
What would be necessary for there to finally be real accountability in the Gulf of Mexico?
How about a 100,000 Cheri Foytlins?
In an excellent piece written by Sue Stergis and appearing in Facing South, much of Cheri’s story is told:
Cheri, a reporter in Louisiana, feared the stories of Gulf Coast residents weren’t being heard after the disaster began so she travelled to Gulf communities where pollution was washing ashore, only to return to her home in Louisiana, 150 miles west of New Orleans suffering from severe headaches and respiratory problems. Her doctor diagnosed her with severe bronchitis, and when she asked him to conduct tests to see if her illness was linked to chemical exposure, her doctor refused.
This led her to involvement with the Louisiana Environmental Action Network (LEAN), who did do the tests she requested and they found her blood levels of ethylbenzene were three times the national average. Ethylbenzene is a possible human carcinogen, linked to oil, and these results, along with her experiences led her into activism, determined to make the truth known.
And the truth is, it isn’t just oil in the water.
Corexit dispersant, used at unprecedented levels to combat the spill, also remains in the Gulf.
And a year later, the long-term effects of its use on people and the Gulf environment are as known today as they were when the Deepwater Horizon exploded…and that knowledge is scant at best. So where are the studies? “Organizational delays,” are being cited as reason why BP’s promised research funding has not yet been disbursed while the EPA, who has proposed additional research into dispersant toxicity and effectiveness for 2012 finds its agency on the Republican hit list, already facing $1.6 billion dollars in cuts.
It wouldn’t be inaccurate to say British Petroleum, Nalco (the producers of Corexit) and the government who okayed the dispersant’s use are in any hurry for such evaluations to be conducted..
Like Cheri Foytlin, other activists are of course involved in the Gulf, everyone from Kindra Arnesen, to Riki Ott, to Dr. Wilma Subra. All have a story to tell, and all want the nation to know that this catastrophe is not over, far from it…
Riki Ott, who had experience dealing with the Exxon Valdez, came to the Gulf Coast and has also been working with LEAN, and she makes a very valuable point, “Figuring out what to do together is the key.” She is currently educating people on the common symptoms associated with chemical exposure, symptoms being seen throughout the Gulf, from residents to cleanup workers, all with a growing pile of medical bills on their kitchen tables.
And British Petroleum isn’t paying.
Some might argue British Petroleum has done their part, by being engaged in the cleanup, or by creating the $20 billion dollar escrow account to help pay claims, but this is of course only half the story. A long list of people who worked in the VOO cleanup program still wait to be paid. British Petroleum wrote off $13 billion dollars in clean up costs with the IRS this year, effectively rendering the claims payouts of only $4 billion so far, moot, especially when Ken Feinberg, the arbitrator of the claims process has said on several occasions it is his belief he can complete the claims process and return half of the $20 billion escrow account to BP.
$13 billion back in taxes. $10 billion back from their escrow account. $4 billion paid so far to claimants.
Foreclosures, lost jobs, a questionable fishing and seafood industry, mental health problems and the host of suspicious sicknesses occurring now along the Gulf Coast: BP’s claims to accountability are nothing more than a sick joke. And British Petroleum will of course, try to deny their actions have anything to do with Gulf Coast illnesses, despite…again, from Sue Sturgis:
Wilma Subra — an award-winning environmental chemist who works with LEAN — conducted environmental analyses to document spill-related contamination. She analyzed air monitoring test data and confirmed that Gulf Coast residents were being exposed to potentially dangerous levels of airborne contaminants. She also conducted independent tests that confirmed the presence of significant levels of oil pollution in coastal soils and plants as well as in sea life. She’s also been sampling the blood of cleanup workers and coastal residents — and finding unusually high levels of contaminants associated with petroleum pollution in people’s bodies. “We are gathering evidence that I don’t believe you can dismiss,” says Marylee Orr, LEAN’s executive director.
The plight of cleanup workers, a year later, is being realized in countless stories of workers toiling in 100 degree heat with no training and no respirators and now suffering from debilitating illness, with unpaid medical bills, all being blamed on exposure to oil and toxic dispersants. Cleanup workers are suffering from symptoms such as respiratory distress, memory loss, continuing heart palpitations, headaches, sore throats, rashes and coughs.
From Roosevelt Love:
“We worked 12 hours a day seven days a week picking up boom and cleaning up oil. I saw people who passed out from working out there. But we were told not to complain or talk to the press about it or we would be fired. You started to feel like you were being used.”
From Janet Hennessey:
“It made me sick,” Janet says. “I often would have to stop while driving to work and vomit on the side of the road. We had to clean up the oil and maggots and algae would be all over the place. There were hundreds of people working there. And we never saw a respirator.” Janet says she still feels sick and she fears that the oil she brought home on her clothes may have contributed to health problems her granddaughter now experiences.
All healthy people previously, all sharing one thing in common, cleanup along the Gulf Coast…yet their medical bills remain unpaid.
This is not accountability, and it demands that people affected be heard.
Cheri Foytlin, to draw attention to the illnesses occurring in the Gulf, recently walked from New Orleans to Washington DC. There she joined a group that presented BP with a bill for $9.9 billion dollars. And now, Cheri knows this fight will have to go on…
“We’re going to keep fighting,” says Foytlin. “This is going to be a lifelong project for me.”
And it will have to be…
British Petroleum, in no small part due to their tax write-offs are again making profits…and by their own projections, will be back in the Gulf of Mexico drilling for oil before the year is over. It’s quickly becoming business as usual for a company that devastated an entire region and continues to shrug off its responsibilities, actions allowed to happen by a government that despite a lot of angry words and condemning speeches, accomplished nothing to require the oil extraction to be any safer.
Masses of people, activists and those so harmed may be the only thing the government and British Petroleum are finally forced to listen to…and I suspect angry masses of people might also assist the thousands of residents who still wait for word from Feinberg… and wonder when/if they can get back to business as usual like British Petroleum has so successfully done. They also might wonder why the promises made over the past year by the corporations and their politicians have turned out to be just one more batch of oil sunk by one more round of disperants, the promises may linger in mind but they were quickly disappeared into the Gulf, even as the waves still bring tar balls ashore.
What the Gulf needs is 100,000 more Cheri Foytlins, people working together to bring those promises back…
Until then, all we got is more waiting…
If interested, contact:
Also, read this piece by the American Zombie:
Have a nice day.