As 2010 comes to an end, one of the most horrific disasters of the year--the explosion of BP's Deepwater Horizon oilrig, which blew up and killed 11 workers and injured 17 others--continues to bring devastating impacts to residents living in and around the Gulf. For the most part, the corporate media has given up its duty to report on what is happening. While some news media periodically report on the status of lawsuits between the government and BP, very few reports examine the environmental devastation and the health impacts that Gulf Coast residents are experiencing.
Elizabeth Cook, who is based in Louisiana and a lead organizer of the group Stop the Gulf Oil Disaster, has been working to build "a broad, determined and powerful peoples' response" ever since the disaster began to unfold. She has committed herself to pushing others to help "get out the truth and mobilize mass independent action" to address the devastation that BP and the government are wreaking upon people in the Gulf region as they continue to work together to preserve corporate profits instead of the wellbeing of the Coast's people.
While most of the country ignores the massive crime against humanity that continues to be perpetuated in the Gulf by government authorities, Cook explains there are a number of "eyewitness reports" on traces of Corexit and oil being found and more and more people coming forward with severe health complications that are believed to be a direct result of the disaster and the disaster's cleanup efforts. [See this MSNBC post for more.]
She notes that Clint Guidry, Secretary of the Louisiana Shrimpers Association, that there are "daily permits being issued to BP to spray the Corexit. That this is being done secretly and the government is not only fully aware of it but allowing it." And, she adds that she thinks the motivation to spray the dispersant is political. She wonders about a government that "knowing the effects that this is going to have on our ecosystem and people," allows this horrific act to continue, "if in fact it is going on." And, she calls it a "crime against humanity and our environment."
Cook suggests that there are unconfirmed reports of BP going out and spraying Corexit under cover of the night.
The Times-Picayune recently posted a "year-end" report on the BP disaster and its continued impact, which made clear the oil is still there and so are the people. It noted that many have lost their livelihood and are now turning picking up aluminum cans to supplement their incomes. It reported that residents are experiencing stress, which is "showing up as physical and mental health problems" that include "headaches, intestinal problems, loss of appetite, depression and anger."
Business owners and residents are strongly discouraged by the fact that Congress failed to pass "legislation directing the spending of money from fines against BP and other responsible parties to pay for environmental restoration."
A number of people living along the Gulf believe the oil is still leaking. Cook doesn't know if this is true or not but acknowledges that there are reports of more oil leaking from groups doing independent reporting along the Gulf. She discusses how the climate in the Gulf could be one that promotes the spread of conspiracy theories:
"I think it runs the gamut because you have folks who are in complete denial and are eating the seafood and believe what the government has said, that the disaster is mostly over. However, that's beginning to crumble a bit because when you see articles like what we've been seeing recently in the Times-Picayune saying people are becoming more and more concerned with seafood because of the independent testing that's going on and you even have the son of owner of Ruth's Chris Steakhouse saying maybe we should have a moratorium on gulf seafood for one year -" The faÃ§ade is crumbling. And that independent editorial came about a week after you had the Secretary of the Navy proposing that the military be fed gulf seafood to makeup for the lack of demand...
"You have fishermen and shrimpers admitting that they're not eating their own catch. Yet, they are in a precarious situation where they know how are they going to feed their families if they don't keep fishing or shrimping. It's really an Orwellian state of mind down here, many contradictions."
The contradictions manifest themselves as independent testing finds oil that government or BP tests do not find. The contradictions come to the fore as people experience health effects from Corexit and the government denies it is being used. And, the contradictions appear as dollars are thrown at states to promote Gulf seafood and tourism as authorities simultaneously pressure residents to settle with BP instead of pursuing a larger lawsuit in the future that could net them more compensation for damage done but further damage BP's brand.
"It's a travesty," says Cook. "It's coercion because people are desperate and they need cash. They have bills to pay, mortgages to pay, notes on their cars, on their boats. People are being pressured into this situation. And I think it's terrible. I'm hoping that some will resist and decide to sue instead but I know for the sake of their families they may not be able to."
When a person has health complications from Corexit, which "break down the molecular integrity" of substances it comes in contact with, it's much harder to wait BP out and see if you can't get a good settlement five, ten or fifteen years from now. For example, consider this story of Darla Rooks, a bayou fisherman. This is what happened after she came in contact with water she believes had oil and dispersants:
"My husband shook the nets and water went on me. I didn't have a menstrual period for four months. I had rash, itching irritated skin, something similar to bronchitis which I've never had. It lasted for three or four months. Eye irritations, heart pains, heart palpitations, involuntary muscles jumping all over my body, and continuous headaches day and night...all I would get is a about a 15 minute to a 20 minute break from pain relievers that are specifically designed to get rid of headaches, that's the only break I would get. And I had to eat those 24 hours a day, seven days a week for three to four months... And they want to tell me to eat the seafood? Why don't they eat the seafood. I'll go catch them and I'll throw BP a big old boil....I'm not eating it."