original article here
August 23 / 24, 2010
A CounterPunch Special Report
The Gulf Crisis is Not Over
Slow Violence and the BP Coverups
By ANNE McCLINTOCK
Three vanishing acts are being played out in the Gulf: the disappearing of the oil from the ocean surface by Corexit, the disappearing of the story by the media blockade, and the disappearing from view of the shadowy private contractors who are making a mint helping BP and the Coast Guard keep a cover on the clean-up. This triple vanishing trick, collectively choreographed by BP and sundry federal agencies, culminated on August 4th in a report released by NOAA that claimed 75% of the oil spill had been captured, burned, evaporated or broken down. The White House hailed the report as something to celebrate. Energy advisor Carol Browne announced: "the vast majority of the oil is gone."
A clamor of outrage immediately rose from the Gulf, as residents refused to dance the crisis-is-over, happy-feet dance. Hundreds of locals furiously insisted that they were still seeing masses of oil on ocean, beaches and marshes, and dead fish, dolphins, sharks, birds and other marine life washing ashore. Then on August 18th scientists from the Universities of Georgia and South Florida produced an open challenge to the White House report, asserting that 70% to 79% of the oil in the Gulf still remained in the water. Charles Hopkinson, a professor of marine science at the University of Georgia declared: "The idea that 75% of the oil is gone and of no concern to the environment is just absolutely incorrect."
Spike Lee, filming in the Gulf, scoffed at what he called the BP/White House "abracabra kawabanga" trick and called on journalists to stay with the story. A few weeks earlier, the triple vanishing act had come together personally for me in a story that Steve, a private contractor, told in the shadows of a southern Louisiana bar. I call the contractor Steve, though that is not his real name. I cannot tell you his real name because he has assured me that he will kill me if I do. I had been in the Gulf for three days with Karin Hayes, a film-maker, documenting the oil-spill when Steve approached us in the bar, urgently wanting to tell us something.
"It's as if a nuclear apocalypse has gone off in the Gulf," he said. "The media is not telling the truth. No one is telling the truth. Let me tell you something. Yesterday on the beach where we work, my crew cleaned up seven hundred bags of oil. Today we went back and the beach was completely covered in oil, as if we had never been there. Today we carried away another seven hundred and fifty bags. Every day we clean up, then the tide brings it in again. The oil is everywhere, deep under the sand. Today I wanted to measure the oil, so I stuck my shovel into the sand and the oil was down there eight inches deep."
Steve leaned in close, "Do you want to know how long my contract is to work down here?" he asked. "Three years." His jaw muscles tightened as if he wanted to suck his words back into his mouth, but could not. "They are telling everyone it is not so bad, but clean-up will take many years. I am going to be here a long time." Steve wiped a hand heavily over his eyes as if they were burning. "Let me tell you something. Today we saw three sharks washed up dead on the beach. The insides of their noses were black with oil. The membranes of their mouths were black with oil. Their eyes were black with oil."
Steve is a war veteran who has seen a great deal of horror, but he seems to find this memory inordinately upsetting. "I am telling you this for the sake of our grandchildren," he said. "We have an apocalypse going on and no one is paying enough attention."
The CTEH Cover Up
A few days later, Steve and I were talking in the chemical-laced dusk of a car park. The Louisiana night was a strange brew of oily vapors and ginger blossom. Steve was slumped against his car, exhausted by his fifteen-hour day. The red tip of his cigarette burned on-off in the dark like a warning signal. As we talked, the nightly, muffled thrup-thrup of distant helicopters began. A number of people had told me about these strange, night flights, as helicopters and planes headed out on mysterious missions. I asked Steve where they were going.
"They are looking for oil," he said. "The helicopters go out first at dusk. When they spot oil, they radio the gps locations back to the Coast Guard. Then between one and three in the morning, the planes go out and spray the oil with dispersants."
"Why do they go out at night?" I ask. "They are hiding the oil with dispersants, Steve said. "They don't want people to know how much oil there is out there. And they don't want people to know how much dispersants they are spraying. It's one of the big secrets down here."
As it happens, Steve knows a good deal about dispersants. Before coming to work on the oil spill, he worked as a contractor for Halliburton; he now works in the Gulf for a company dealing with environmental toxicity and health hazards. It took a couple of hours talking and half a bottle of Southern Comfort before Steve revealed the name of his company. "I work for CTEH," he said. Then he dragged his hand hard over his eyes. "I can't believe I just told you that," he said, but it was clear he wanted to.
Founded in 1997 in Arkansas, CTEH (Center for Toxicology and Environmental Health) specializes in toxicology and risk assessment. According to its website, CTEH "specializes in the specific expertise of toxicology, risk assessment, industrial hygiene, occupational health, and response to emergencies or other events involving release or threat of release of chemicals." As it happens, CTEH is the company down in the Gulf that is quietly monitoring the levels of chemical toxicity of the oil-spill and its possible impact on the health of offshore workers involved in the clean-up.