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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 10/16/13

BP's Silent Disaster

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Message Dahr Jamail
Source: AlJazeera

2010 oil spill has left a legacy of psychological and social problems among residents in the impact zone.
John Gooding has suffered physical problems and now struggles with depression as well [Erika Blumenfeld/Al Jazeera]

New Orleans, US - Most people believe only those who have experienced war can know post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). But those living in the impact zone of BP's 2010 oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico know differently.

John Gooding, a fisherman and resident of the coastal city of Pass Christian, Mississippi, began having health problems shortly after the disaster began. He became sicker with each passing month, and moved inland in an effort to escape continuing exposure to the chemicals after being diagnosed with toxic encephalitis.

He experiences seizures regularly, and two of his dogs even died of seizures from what he believes was chemical exposure.

"I've been married 25 years, and my wife and I've never had problems. But recently we've started having problems, mostly because of finances and my health," Gooding told Al Jazeera.

"I can no longer work because of my physical sickness from the chemicals. My wife is struggling with depression, and is going through grief counselling due to having to deal with my ongoing health issues. Our savings is gone. Our retirement is gone. This has been a living hell and continues to be a nightmare."

Gooding's story is not uncommon among countless Gulf residents living in areas affected by the BP disaster.

"People are becoming more and more hopeless and feeling helpless," Dr Arwen Podesta, a psychiatrist at Tulane University in New Orleans, told Al Jazeera back in August 2010. "They are feeling frantic and overwhelmed. There is already more PTSD and more problems with domestic violence, threats of suicide and alcohol and drugs."

BP's attempts to minimize the amount of compensation it pays to those affected is not helping to improve what now are chronic psychological, community, and personal impacts along the Gulf coast.

BP returns to court over Gulf oil spill

"BP's claims process is still completely unfair. They now want to charge you for them to reconsider your claim," Gooding added. "So we have to pay them to look at our claims if we think it is unfair. It's like everything has been designed to benefit BP."

Podesta warned of the consequences of BP breaking their initial promises to "make people whole."

"There is an acute event [the initial oil disaster], but then a long-term increase in hopelessness with every promise that is broken," said Podesta, who believes the psychological impacts from BP's disaster could persist for two to three decades.

"People are put through red tape and each time they fail to move forward, they take five steps back in their psychological welfare."

Repeated calls to BP seeking comment did not elicit formal responses. 

During testimony before the House Judiciary Committee on July 21, 2010, Kenneth Feinberg -- a prominent lawyer chosen by BP and President Barack Obama to run the compensation fund for victims of the spill -- said the fund was not likely to pay for individual claims of mental illness and distress alleged to be caused by BP's spill.

"If you start compensating purely mental anguish without a physical injury -- anxiety, stress -- we'll be getting millions of claims from people watching television," Feinberg said. "You have to draw the line somewhere. I think it would be highly unlikely that we would compensate mental damage, alleged damage, without a signature physical injury as well."

To date, no compensation claims have been paid out to an individual regarding mental healthcare needs.

However, at the state level in May 2012, as part of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill settlement, $36m in grant money was earmarked to support behavioural and mental healthcare needs in southeastern Louisiana. 

"Explosion of new clients"

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DAHR JAMAIL He is author of the book Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches from an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq. Jamailà ‚¬ „ s work has been featured on National Public Radio, the Guardian, The Nation, and The Progressive. He has received (more...)
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