by Jerry Cope and Charles Hambleton
August 4, 2010
The unprecedented disaster caused by the BP oil spill at the Deepwater
Horizon Mississippi Canyon 252 site continues to expand even as National
Incident Commander Thad Allen and BP assert that the situation is improving,
the blown-out source capped and holding steady, the situation well in hand
and cleanup operations are being scaled back.
New York Times declared on the front page
this past week that the oil was dissolving more rapidly than anticipated.
Time magazine reported that environmental anti-advocate Rush Limbaugh
point when he said the spill was a "leak".
Thad Allen pointed out in a press conference
that boats are
still skimming on the surface, a futile gesture when the
dispersant Corexit is being used to break down oil on the surface. As the
oil is broken down, it mixes with the dispersant and flows under or over any
To judge from most media coverage, the beaches are open, the fishing
restrictions being lifted and the Gulf resorts open for business in a
healthy, safe environment.
We, along with Pierre LeBlanc, spent the last few
weeks along the Gulf coast from Louisiana to Florida, and the reality is
distinctly different. The coastal communities of Louisiana, Mississippi,
Alabama, and Florida have been inundated by the oil and toxic dispersant
Corexit 9500, and the entire region is contaminated.
The once pristine white beaches that have been
subject to intense cleaning operations now contain the oil/dispersant
contamination to an unknown depth.
The economic impacts potentially exceed
even the devastation of a major hurricane like Katrina, the adverse impacts
on health and welfare of human populations are increasing every minute of
every day and the long-term effects are potentially life threatening.
Over the Gulf from the Source (official term for the Deepwater Horizon spill
site) in to shore there is virtually no sign of life anywhere in the vast
areas covered by the dispersed oil and Corexit. This in a region previously
abundant with life above and below the ocean's surface in all its diversity.
For months now, scientists and environmental organizations have been asking
where all the animals are.
The reported numbers of marine animals lost from
BP fall far short of the observed loss. The water has a heavy appearance and
the slightly iridescent greenish yellow color that extends as far as the eye
Wake of vessel near the Source through the toxic dispersant Corexit
Corexit and a thin line of orangish crude dispersing on the surface
The ocean covered in Corexit is green, and a line of crude being dispersed
On two, unrestricted day-long flights, on July
22nd and 23rd, we were fortunate enough to be on with official clearance.
saw a total of four distressed dolphins and three schools of rays on the
surface. As the bottom of the ocean is covered with crude and only the oil
on the surface broken up by dispersant, the rays are forced up to the
surface in a futile attempt to find food and oxygen. Birds are scarce where
one would usually find thousands upon thousands.
The Gulf of Mexico from the
Source into the shore is a giant kill zone.
Rays near the Source
Mother Nature Network blogger Karl
Burkart received a tip from an anonymous fisherman-turned-BP contractor in
the form of a distressed text message, describing a near-apocalyptic sight
near the location of the sunken Deepwater Horizon - fish, dolphins, rays,
squid, whales, and thousands of birds - "as far as the eye can see," dead
According to his statement, which was later confirmed by another
report from an individual working in the Gulf, whale carcasses were being
shipped to a highly guarded location where they were processed for disposal.
CitizenGlobal Gulf News Desk received photos that matched the report and are
being published on Karl's blog today.
Local fisherman in Alabama report
sighting tremendous numbers of dolphins, sharks, and fish moving in towards
shore as the initial waves of oil and dispersant approached in June. Many
third- and fourth-generation fisherman declared emphatically that they had
never seen or heard of any similar event in the past. Scores of animals were
fleeing the leading edge of toxic dispersant mixed with oil.
either caught in the toxic mixture and killed out at sea, or fortunate
enough to be out in safe water beyond the Source, died as the water closed
in, and they were left no safe harbor.
The numbers of birds, fish, turtles,
and mammals killed by the use of Corexit will never be known as the evidence
strongly suggests that BP worked with,
...all of which cooperated to conceal the operations disposing of
the animals from the media and the public.
The majority of the disposal operations were carried out under cover of
The areas along the beaches and coastal Islands where the dead
animals were collected were closed off by the U.S. Coast Guard. On shore,
private contractors and local law enforcement officials kept off limits the
areas where the remains of the dead animals were dumped, mainly at the
Magnolia Springs landfill by Waste Management where armed guards controlled
The nearby weigh station where the Waste Management trucks passed
through with their cargoes was also restricted by at least one Sheriff's
deputies in a patrol car, 24/7.
Magnolia landfill during initial cleanup, courtesy of Press-Register, Connie
Robyn Hill, who was Beach Ambassador for the
City of Gulf Shores until she became so ill she collapsed on the job one
morning, was at a residential condominium property adjacent to the Gulf
Shores beach when she smelled an overwhelming stench.
She went to see where
the odor was coming from and witnessed two contract workers dumping plastic
bags full of dead birds and fish in a residential Waste Management dumpster,
which was then protected by a security guard.
Within five minutes, a Waste Management
collection truck emptied the contents and the guard departed.
Photo by Robyn Hill
The oceans are empty, the skies tinged yellow by
evaporating oil and toxic dispersant devoid of birds, dogs mysteriously have
no fleas, and in an area usually besieged by mosquitoes, there is little
need for repellent, and the usual trucks spraying are nowhere to be seen.
Dauphin Island was one of the sites where carcasses of sperm whales were
destroyed. The operational end of the island was closed to unauthorized
personnel and the airspace closed. The U.S. Coast Guard closed off all
access from the Gulf.
This picture shows the area as it was prepped to
receive the whale carcasses for disposal.
Riki Ott, PhD, has been in the region for the
past three months.
A veteran of the Exxon Valdez spill and renowned marine
toxicologist, Ott has documented numerous accounts of the devastating
results from BP and the government's use of Corexit in the gulf.
We spoke at
length last week:
JC: There has been a great deal of
discussion about the disappearance of the animals and the life in the
ocean which seem to have vanished since this incident has occurred. What
do you know about this?
RO:: Well I have been down in the Gulf since May 3rd. It's pretty
consistent what I have heard. First I heard from the offshore workers
and the boat captains that were coming in and they would see windrows of
dead things piled up on the barrier islands; turtles and birds and
RO:: And whales. There would be stories from boat captains of offshore,
we started calling death gyres, where the rips all the different
currents sweep the oceans surface, that would be the collection points
for hundreds of dolphins and sea turtles and birds and even whales
So we got four different times latitudes/longitude coordinates
where (this was happening) but by the time we got to these lat/longs
which is always a couple of days later there was nothing there. There
was boom put around these areas to collect the animals and we know this
happened at Exxon Valdez too.
The rips are where the dead things
collect. We also know from Exxon Valdez that only 1% in our case of the
carcasses that floated off to sea actually made landfall in the Gulf of
Alaska. I don't believe there have been any carcass drift studies down
here that would give us some indication that when something does wash up
on the beach what percentage it is of the whole.
But we know that
offshore there was an attempt by BP and the government to keep the
animals from coming onshore in great numbers.
The excuse was this was a
health problem - we don't want to create a health hazard. That would
only be a good excuse if they kept tallies of all the numbers because
all the numbers - all the animals - are evidence for federal court. We
the people own these animals and they become evidence for damages to
charge for BP.
In Exxon Valdez the carcasses were kept under triple lock
and key security until the natural resource damage assessment study was
completed and that was 2½ years after the spill.
Then all the animals
were burned but not until then.
So people offshore were reporting this first and then carcasses started
making it onshore. Then I started hearing from people in Alabama a lot
and the western half of Florida - a little bit in Mississippi - but
mostly what was going on then there was an attempt to keep people off
the beaches, cameras off the beaches.
I was literally flying in a plane
and the FAA boundary changed. It was offshore first with the barrier
islands and all of a sudden it just hopped right to shore to Alabama
that's where we were flying over and the pilot was just like - he
couldn't believe it - he was like look at that and I didn't know what he
was looking but then he points at the little red line which had all of
sudden grown and he just looked at me and said the only reason that they
have done this is so people can't see what is going on.
And what that
little red line meant was no cameras on shore and three days later the
oil came onshore and the carcasses came onshore into Alabama.
WATCH Jerry's interview with Ott:
JC: That immediately preceded the first wave coming onshore?
RO:: Pretty much. That preceded the first wave. It was June 2nd when the line
changed and the FAA boundaries increased. Then people would - I mean you
walk beaches here at night it's hot so people walk beaches - and they would
see carcasses like sea turtles, a bird, a little baby dolphin, and
immediately they would go over to it and immediately people would approach
them, don't touch that if you touch it you will be arrested and within
fifteen minutes there would be a white unmarked van that would just come out
of nowhere and in would go the carcass and off it would go.
They were white unmarked vans at first. We've since heard many other stories
from truckers who are trucking carcasses in refrigerated vans to Mexico.
Carcasses are just not showing up where they need to which is as body counts
for essentially this war on the gulf.
JC: It sounds like the federal government and agencies that have been
involved in this one way or another are working on behalf of BP and not the
RO:: What's going on on the beaches where people can at least get glimpses of
what's happening - I mean I've talked to people who have seen boats coming
in towing dolphin carcasses and the boats have jockeyed to try to prevent
the person with the camera from getting a picture.
I've had people tell me
they were walking the beach actually trying to deploy boom but along comes a
BP rep and the Coast Guard in a boat, and the Coast Guard guy yells at the
people to stop deploying - particularly if it was alternative boom - and
then he goes away and comes back a few minutes later without the BP person
and apologizes for behaving that way but he had to because there was a BP
person on board.
JC: A Coast Guard official?
RO:: A Coast Guard official apologized for his behavior because he had to a
since BP person was on board. So it's pretty clear to the American, the
people in the Gulf, that somehow it's turned not into our country anymore.
That's the question. People are just stunned. We thought this was America.
We didn't think we had to know exactly what our rights were, we just though
we all lived them.
Suddenly they're finding that unless they can site
chapter and verse they are getting intimidated and backing down from these
encounters with BP and/or the Coast Guard.
Drew Wheelan, with the American Birding Association, was on Grand Isle on
the first of June.
There were definitely dead birds washing up on the beach at that point.
General contractors, not Fish and Wildlife officials, I contacted them and
they said they were not conducting operations at that time. These
contractors were cruising the high tide.
On at least three occasions I saw
these gators, 4-seat ATVs, going along the beach with hand-held spotlights
looking for dead animals in the middle of the night.
When I spoke with Felix
Lopez at the US Fish and Wildlife Service, he told me they knew they were
Dead Northern Gannet, reported but uncollected. Photo by Drew Wheelan
Karen Harvey is a local who regularly walks the beaches along the Alabama
JC: In the course of walking the beaches since this incident happened, how
many dead animals, birds did you find?
KH: Before they got the hazmat crews trained and before official people
showed up with their vans I was finding - within a seven-mile stretch - and that's not a very long beach area, I was finding at least two turtles a
day, mostly Ridleys. There was one logger head that was very large. My
daughter's friends would call me and say, Miss Karen there's a turtle on the
beach, you should come down and take a picture.
People were aware they were
dying, but we were being told that they were possibly hit by a fishing boat
or pulled up with fish from the fishing boats but after the fishing boats
were completely stopped the turtles were still on the beach. Now the beach
is immaculate, no crabs, no birds - nothing.
JC: Why do you think that is?
KH: Dispersant. It's the dispersant. And also when you clean a beach the way
they clean our beach with - I mean our beach never looked this pristine as
far as junk and so forth - when you clean a beach like that, you take away
all the things that birds eat, and we did have some big fish kill areas
where bunches of little tiny fish and so forth would wash up. And it makes
JC: When was that?
KH: The last one as probably about a month ago.
JC: When you say a lot, quantify that.
KH: Thousands of little tiny fish, but they were cleaning the beach so they
just cleaned the beach up, the hazmat workers.
WATCH Jerry's interview with Harvey:
The reason BP has gone to such great lengths to hide the devastation caused
by the irresponsible drilling operations and blow out at Mississippi Canyon
252 is financial.
Every death that results from the oil spill has a cash
value, whether animal or human. Images of dead animals are difficult to spin
in the media, and they resonate across all demographics. BP also has a
strong interest in maintaining a business-as-usual model for the beach
resort communities along the Gulf Coast that have been economically
devastated and lost the majority of their annual revenue during the summer
season of 2010.
The only sharks circling the Gulf waters now are based on
The Jaws Syndrome - Life Imitates Art On The Gulf Coast
August 11, 2010
When Steven Spielberg thrilled audiences around
the world with the release of Jaws in 1975, who would have thought that the
fictional scenario of a beachfront community faced with a mortal enemy
threatening life and the summer tourist economy would be played out on an
exponentially larger scale 35 years later in the summer of 2010 along the
Gulf of Mexico.
The credits now roll with BP's disastrous oil
spill at the Mississippi Canyon 252 site as the Great White Shark,
The Obama Administration and the Federal State, and Local Authorities as the
Town of Amity, and the lone rational voice of Plaquemines Parish President
Billy Nungasser as Chief Brody.
But unlike the film and novel, along the Gulf
Coast, the voice of reason has been drowned out by the unified assertions of
BP and government officials that the situation is under control and the
water and beaches safe for recreation and fishing.
Had not the Obama Administration chosen to allow BP to dictate the response
to the massive catastrophe, the economic and long term impacts from the
release of hundreds of millions of gallons of crude into the Gulf might have
been manageable to some degree.
But as it played out with millions of gallons of
Corexit dispersants being sprayed by the US Coast Guard from C130s at night
and from BP ships near the Source, deep underwater, and along the coast in
order to put the oil out of sight; the devastation expanded across thousands
of miles of the gulf and throughout the food chain onto the beaches and
through evaporation into humans along the coast as well.
Charles Hambleton, Pierre LeBlanc and I arrived in the Gulf
region in mid-July to investigate reports of a coordinated effort by BP and
Federal and State authorities to cover up the tremendous loss of marine life
due to the spill and dispersants being used to break down the oil so it
would be out of sight.
We quickly discovered that while the allegations
of a cover-up of untold numbers of dead animals (Crime of the Century Part I
- above) was both dramatic and emotional it was the impacts on human health
and welfare from the oil/Corexit mixture and the cover up of those realities
that was the more important story.
This was a story mainstream media seemed content
to echo official sources on without any substantial effort to report on the
large numbers of people sickened as a result of exposure to toxic crude and
Robyn Hill and her husband moved to Gulf Shores Alabama from New Orleans
after Hurricane Katrina to start a new life. Robyn landed her dream job as
Beach Ambassador for the City of Gulf Shores. To see her talk about it, her
eyes light up and a smile spreads across her face. But on the morning of
June 10th she collapsed on the beach unconscious.
She had been feeling ill with symptoms which are
indicative of chemical exposure. She was taken to the Coastal Work Institute
where the doctor spent 45 minutes explaining how she needed to sign off on
her injury as heat stroke in order to avoid bad publicity and possible beach
closures. Ms. Hill refused to cooperate.
She remains very ill, and the local physicians
unsure how to treat her condition. Dr. Riki Ott has been instrumental
in connecting Robyn and many others with specialists around the country for
advice and treatment for chemical exposure.
Charles Hambleton and I spoke at length with
Robyn Hill regarding her experience and health.
Former Gulf Shores Beach Supervisor/Head of Security Beach Ambassador Robyn
by the Only Warning Sign on
We became aware that the oil was coming in and
the City of Gulf Shores was going to keep it hush hush and that we were not
supposed to say anything.
To me it's like isn't this an ecological issue,
shouldn't the wildlife and fisheries be out here. To me the guy who is the
head of the lifeguards is not exactly the best guy to be saying hey the
water is OK to be swimming in. He's not even an oil expert or anything. It
behooved my intelligence to stand around and watch what the hell was going
on, just waiting for it to happen.
So Friday the oil was starting to hit. I work
Monday through Friday. Over that weekend when I came back in Monday all my
officers are telling me that they were getting sick over the weekend and
that they saw people vomiting and that their own selves were vomiting. They
were having a really hard time going through the process of working and what
should they do about it.
Should we report it?
They were reporting to me I'm their supervisor I
report it to our boss Coastal Security who has the contract with City Hall.
So there's this OSHA trail - there's not one person you go to and say here's
what's happening. It's like a train wreck because you tell one person and
they are yeah, ok and then you tell the next person and they are like yeah,
ok but nobody really cares at the end of the day they are like ok so you all
are getting sick down there. OK fine.
So Monday passes and I don't get sick but I am
getting headaches. Tuesday and Wednesday I start to vomit.
I go home I'm
getting sick. I'm driving home from work and I am getting sick in the new
Publix grocery store parking lot thinking what the hell is happening. This
is right when the oil first started coming up. So I'm thinking shit this
sucks because I really like my job.
I'm like the coolest chick in the world I'm the
head of the frickin' beach!
Who doesn't want that job? And I am getting sick.
Do I quit my job?
I mean what the hell, is this going to
Are they going to give us something to
make it stop?
Who is going to come out and tell us
this is not OK?
I know for a fact my other guys are getting sick
- macho big guys are getting sick too it's not just me.
So we go through that process and I am telling
them over and over gain that everybody's getting sick. The next week goes by
and nothing. Nothing. Everybody is still getting sick. People are getting
The next week comes around and again the Monday
Tuesday nothing happens Wednesday comes and I pass out. I pass out. What
happens is the night before I am getting ready to leave for work and one of
the people from the Central Command - at this point they are coming in and
setting up this base - at this point they had bought in tractors and the
whole but we're not telling anybody what's up but we know what's going down.
These sand sifters that take the oil out of the
sand - you know not telling anybody what's the real deal, there's news media
everywhere. We're not allowed to talk to them. We don't know what's going
on. Even though we do, we're not supposed to tell people don't get in the
water even though we have the briefing that says the EPA says there are
chemicals in the water.
So we are supposed to tell people go into the
water at your own risk. So they have not posted the signs yet which say -
it's a red sign and it's supposed to be posted but they never posted it.
Why didn't they ever post it?
Now it's posted
but it was never posted until people really started getting sick. they knew
the dispersant was already in the water.
JC: Who was actually responsible for
posting the signs?
RH: The City of Gulf Shores. They actually told the head lifeguard Scott
that they had ordered these gigantic signs that were supposed to go on
the lifeguard stations that were the size of the lifeguard stations that
were supposed to say chemical warning. They are not there - they are not
there right now.
CH:: Where are those signs? They must be somewhere unless they destroyed
RH: They just never put them out and it's disgusting. It's just
disgusting because even to this day if you go up there and say can I go
swimming they will say at your own risk. Well it isn't at your own risk.
There is a chemical warning.
JC: Who is making that call, is it the mayor?
RH: The City of Gulf Shores.
JC: So it's the mayor who actually makes that call?
RH: That's right.
JC: It reminds me of Jaws. You got the mayor and......
RH: That is totally what this is! It is totally Jaws all over again.
JC: Instead of the great white shark you have an oil spill.
RH: It's not just the oil spill. It's the
Corexit 9500. That's a big
thing because the dispersants they are not telling the truth about. The
fishing boats come out and they are supposed to go three miles out and
they are coming right outside the swimming buoys and so are the planes.
The reason we know that is we saw them.
Now you might never catch them
again, but we saw them the day that I passed out. The night before we
saw the fishing boats right outside the buoys dropping it and I knew
what they were doing because the girl who came form Central Command who
was one of the hazmat girls who was working from Fairhope who was
watching the workers said they are dropping the dispersant out.
that's what they are doing. I didn't know that she knew that. She said
look, look what they are dropping right there and you could see it
coming out of the thing. the next day I come in early in the morning. It
wasn't hot I wasn't overheated. The chemical I could smell it...
JC: You could see them dropping it from shore?
RH: They were as close as the buoys that you can see how far somebody
can swim out to.
JC: That's not far at all.
RH: Exactly. that's how close the fishing boats were dropping it.
CH:: Tell me about what the doctor they took you to.
RH: I am in my hut which is small and the air gets all inside the hut I
am in and I have no where else to breathe and knocks me out. The
lifeguards come and get me. They say you need to get the fire department
over here. I'm embarrassed. I'm like oh my God, these are my buddies I
don't want to be that girl that can't handle her job. Oh shit, I am
going to lose my job.
Look guys just go away let me get some fresh air.
So they take me to try and find some fresh air. We can't find fresh air!
We can't find a spot of fresh air for me to go anywhere in the beach. So
finally he says OK look I am calling them. So he radios them. You have
to remember I work with the Fire Department, the Police, everybody I
have the radio right there I know what's going on all the time too I
know what they are doing on a regular basis.
They come over and I am 158
over 100 blood pressure, I am normally 120 over 100, they are like you
have to go tot the hospital right now. My boss shows up and he takes me
to the workman's comp doctor. And the workman's comp doctor says you
realize we all live in Gulf Shores and if we report you got sick from
the fumes that we will create a problem and that would not be a good
situation to have. You can't just say you got sick from the fumes. And I
was like, I did, I am giving you the knife that stabbed me.
were what made me sick. And he was like yeah but that would cause a
problem for the City.
JC: He actually said that?
RH: Yeah. He eventually put down that I had fumes but that was only
because I would not sign the paperwork.
JC: How long did that conversation go on?
RH: A long time. Because I was wanting him to give me some medicine. I
was scared. I was freaked out. I was totally scared I had no idea if I
was going to make it though the night at that point. So we went through
I kind of turned it on him because here's this intelligent
person trying to tell him what's going on and he is trying to make me
think you are going to eat what I am telling you and I am saying no I am
not. You are going to help me the way that I want you to.
So I turned
into like this sweet little southern girl and I was like, do you mean to
tell me that all the - because - if like everybody got sick from all the
fumes and everything that the town would turn into a ghost town and that
we should be really worried about that huh?
And he was like exactly. I
was not going to get anywhere with this guy. You know I just need to get
out of here and go home because he's more worried about a bigger
Eventually I got my own doctor and I am on
steroids and he understands I have toxins in my lungs.
After talking with Riki Ott who is one of the marine biologists from
the Exxon/Valdez she said one of the hardest things for people to realize is
that they are telling us that they don't know the long-term effects of these
chemicals when in fact they do know the long-term effects and that's the
bullshit of what is gong on here.
The real long term effects are in the autopsies,
the autopsies of the people who got sick. The people who died had lesions on
their brains, the same lesions on their brains that the dolphins had. So
there is such thing as long term effect to be proven outside of just the
This is my story but the story that pisses me off is that they are not
stopping people form going in the water. This happened to me but it is going
to happen to so many other people.
Drs. Kathleen Burns and Michael Harbut, who are providing
information on the toxic effects of crude oil and dispersants through
Sciencecorps are concerned that there are many more people like Robyn. Dr.
Burns, a toxicologist, was contacted shortly after the spill by groups in
Louisiana and Texas who needed information.
She enlisted the help of Dr. Michael Harbut, a
Professor of Medicine at Wayne State University who has treated many
petroleum-exposed patients. Physicians from across the Gulf have requested
information on diagnosis and treatment of chemically-exposed patients with a
wide range of health problems.
Information on the Sciencecorps website includes
toxic effects of crude oil and dispersants and clinical evaluation
information for medical care providers at
Both doctors are very concerned that most Gulf residents and their health
care providers haven't been warned about the hazards and don't have
information on chemicals in the air and water.
Dr. Harbut was asked Friday to speak with a boat
captain who was vomiting blood. The Navy veteran, who didn't realize he
needed immediate medical care, was encouraged to quickly get to an emergency
room. His symptoms matched the kind of internal hemorrhaging that results
from exposure to a dispersant ingredient. The captain, whose four crew
members were also ill, reported that they were exposed to dispersant for the
last two days while working near the shoreline.
Sound Truth, describes many dispersant-exposed
workers with similar health problems.
Unfortunately, most Gulf residents are
unaware of the health symptoms or how serious they are. Medical care
providers have no training to recognize or treat damage caused by chemicals
people are being exposed to. Information that should have been rapidly
distributed throughout the region is not only absent, but government claims
that no harm is occurring are causing confusion, illness, and serious delays
in medical care.
Robin Young is a resident of Orange Beach and is partners in a rental
property management firm there.
She is one of the founders of
Guardians of the
Gulf and has been active in calling for assistance from BP and federal,
state, and local officials to help the growing numbers of people sickened by
exposure to the oil and dispersants.
JC: What has been your experience with the
spill and its impacts on your community?
RY:: It's surreal. Its frightening and astonishing the lack of support on
the part of BP, and the government, state and local officials. It is one
of the most hideous crimes and cover-ups. The businesses down here are
not receiving the money that they were promised. They are not making us
whole. One person walks in with legitimate paperwork and gets a run
around for six weeks or longer as their business dies and they are
forced to close their doors. And then somebody else walks in with a lack
of paperwork and gets a big check. None of it makes any sense.
The health effects are the most frightening because everybody is sick
and the doctors here don't know how to treat us. We are having a hard
time finding doctors. We can hook up with doctors in Michigan and
Colorado that can treat us.
We are being told there is no cure for what
we have that it is going to be a life long term of various illnesses.
JC: Are you sick yourself?
RY:: Extremely sick to the point where I can only work a couple of hours
a day before I just collapse in utter exhaustion from coughing and the
flu like symptoms that you feel. I have no voice and it's totally
wrecking my business because I can't function, I can't remember half of
what I am supposed to do - I have to constantly write notes to myself. I
am not able to go out and take care of the houses and guests like I used
JC: When did those symptoms start effecting you?
RY:: Approximately three weeks after the oil actually hit our shores. It
started with the sore throat. The sore throat went from just being sore
to feeling like you had a sock stuffed down your throat - kind of a
gagging reflex - then it went to headaches, nausea, vomiting, occasional
diarrhea, extremely lethargic, memory loss, to this horrible wet hacking
cough that has literally made my entire body so sore from coughing so
bad that it is really hard to function.
JC: How many people do you think are having similar symptoms and
reactions to the conditions there?
RY:: It's hard to put a number on it but from my location all the way up
and down the coast, I would say 50% of the people are affected. Some
people don't even know. They are walking around with a sore throat
thinking it is summer allergies.
I have asked this question of every
toxicologist, scientist, and doctor I have talked to; why are some
people sick and some not?
It has to do with several things.
Most of the
time people who are as sick as I am have had bronchitis or pneumonia at
some point in time in their lives so their lungs were already weakened.
The other reason they think I have it so bad is that I spent three weeks
or longer out on the boats out in the middle of the oil and dispersants
with media and on the beach with the media doing interviews right next
to the toxic mess and the fact that I live fifty yards from the back bay
that is foaming and churning with dispersants.
Then you have the rain
coming down and you can see after it rains in the puddles and the water
on the back bay this frothy mess which we are convinced is dispersant
coming back down in the rain. I can go and walk my dog twenty minutes
after its rained and be outside and within two seconds start gagging and
Sometimes there is an odor and sometimes there is not.
JC: Are the health officials giving you any assistance?
RY:: Absolutely none. First of all the mayors in Orange Beach and Gulf
Shores, they should not have left our beaches open.
They knew that what
was coming in was not safe for anybody to swim. They kind of threw all
of under the bus by not closing the beaches which makes you think that
they came to some kind of agreement with BP because as it was pointed
out to me not too long ago, for the mere fact that they did not close
the beaches this whole entire time gives BP some ammunition when
numerous ones of us file lawsuits for loss of income or loss of health.
They threw us under the bus. No they are not doing anything. Even the
doctors down here don't seem to be very proactive. Dr Burns from
Sciencecorps has tried to make contact with numerous doctors down here
trying to put them in touch, get them fact sheets to teach them how to
take care of the health issues and no one is responding. No one.
two media outlets down here which are two news stations that seem to
keep going out and testing the water and showing things on the air but
as far as the rest of the media, they just don't care. It is supposedly
cleaned up and fine yet we get daily information flowing in from
Louisiana, Mississippi, and here in Alabama that they are still spraying
dispersants, that the oil is still coming in on the beach.
photographs and pictures yet media says it's over, it's done, the well
JC: So what are you going to do?
RY:: We are going to continue to fight.
I would like to sit down with Obama and
Lisa Jackson and ask them point blank, why? How can they live
with themselves knowing that they have completely abandoned everyone
here on the coast... this disaster has affected everyone here on the
coast and is slowly moving north and affecting people there and yet
everyday that goes by our health and businesses are going down the drain
and they continue to lie about the oil and the corexit and the damage it
I challenge Obama and Lisa Jackson to come down here and
lets give them a swim in the waters that they say aren't dangerous and
feed them seafood fresh out of the gulf and watch them eat it! It won't
happen, and what a bogus press release Obama had announcing he was going
to eat Gulf seafood at his birthday bash.
Does he really think at this
point anyone believes that? Obama and every government and local and
state official has tremendously let down the American people and they
know we know that yet they do not care. Its sickening.
and greed that are involved in this disaster far exceeds anything that
you can wrap your mind around.
Gabriel McMillan was employed as a safety
officer by BP subcontractor Meyer Engineering under yet another firm CTEH
which contracted with BP to provide safety officers as well as industrial
McMillan's credentials are impressive; as a
preventive Medicine NCO in charge 2nd Brigade 101st Airborne responsible for
public health of 5000 soldiers at Fort Campbell and during two deployments
to Iraq where he did air and water quality analysis and site assessments
that went to the commanders in order to keep the troops healthy and prevent
them from getting harmed by anything that was not associated with combat.
McMillan resigned his position with Meyer
Engineering because he was not allowed to perform his duties and ensure
Gabriel McMillan Photo by Charles Hembleton
GM:: I don't think the way they are doing the
monitoring is indicative of what people are being exposed to.
that are working twelve hours a day seven days a week the OSHA
permissible exposure limits are not designed for what we are being
exposed to. They don't include absorption through the skin. They don't
include ingestion which happens when the particles get in their mouth or
They don't include when somebody gets some on their hands and they
eat a sandwich afterwards. But BP is only going by that number to
determine whether or not we need to up our protective equipment and/or
close the beaches. They need to do 24 hour monitoring for a week at a
time monitoring what the peak levels are and what the sustained levels
are. I know it's not being done by BP and I don't think it's being done
by the EPA.
What happens is the guys are driving along the beach in an ATV and they
take an instantaneous reading of what's going on right then and then
they move on. And that is not indicative of what our people are being
exposed to over the course of their work.
The worst thing that could
happen is for them to reduce the hazard classification and make it legal
for people to be swimming in it without enough research to say it's
safe. Whenever I was in the army and we had a concern that there could
be a health risk, we took everybody out. We removed them completely and
then we determined exactly what that risk was before we let anybody back
in. It seems like a money thing. They are putting that value over
Have you seen the document preservation form BP is putting out? It's a
They are asking us to sign it saying we will be let go
if we don't sign it. It basically says that any document that we produce
on this project becomes the property of BP and they can seize them
from us. They can take them off our computers, off our phones, and I am
afraid something like Enron is going to happen where if it comes up that
they may be liable for something ll of that information is going to
disappear and employees are going to be legally bound to comply with
For many, this echoes of the poisoning of 9/11 cleanup workers, where
chemicals, dust, and asbestos sickened so many.
Most of those dying far
too early of cancer and respiratory disease believed the lies they were
told about the safety of the air. New York City's construction workers,
electricians, and other tradesmen labored to pull order from
terrorist-imposed chaos, usually without protective equipment. Studies
of children whose parents were assured their schools and homes were safe
are now underway, after reports of too many with cancer and other
Dr. Burns, who helped many 9/11 workers, worries that federal
agencies are focused on studying health damage rather than reducing it.
"Who decided that prevention, protection, and precaution are dispensable
parts of public health" she asks, "while people are treated like
specimens instead of valued members of our country?"
The total number of people sickened from exposure to the oil and
dispersant will never be known. For BP employees and all of its
subcontractors, reporting illness was grounds for and resulted in
immediate termination. Dr. Riki Ott has seen this scenario played out
before at Exxon/Valdez in Alaska.
Since then, things have change
somewhat, better for the oil companies as corporate influence in
government has grown ever more pervasive, worse for the planet and every
living thing in their way.
RO:: When I first got down here in early May, I immediately heard from
the workers at The Source. The fisherman and their families were telling
me about strange common illnesses in an uncommon time and they wondered
if maybe they should be worried.
It was headaches, dizziness, nausea,
sore throats, burning eyes, and of course everybody has had this at one
time or another, but it did seem kind of weird that all the guys were
experiencing these symptoms out working on the oil spill. At that point
and time it was pretty much a continuous burn going on and dispersant
flames flying close enough - too close - for the guys to be comfortable.
I explained that this was exactly what had happened in Exxon/Valdez and
then they got even more worried because they wanted to know what had
the Exxon/Valdez workers who got sick.
The story is that
Exxon pretty much gave people hardhats instead of respirators and then
told them that they had the Valdez crud cold or flu like symptoms and if
you want your job keep working. If not we'll give you a pink slip. So
everybody said it's like a TB ward out there. Everybody is coughing red
eyed and kept working.
The fisherman kind of reacted the same way in
that they have been through four major hurricanes in 5 years and they
have no money left in the bank. Fishing was going to be closed so if the
job was oil spill response they felt like they had to do it. But they
also knew they were getting sick especially when I was telling them well
actually that all of these illnesses did not get properly diagnosed.
They didn't get properly treated and people ended up very sick with
chemical sensitivity. Some of them 100% disabled - legally disabled -
some of them dead.
JC: And that's dealing with Exxon?
RO:: Yes, that's all dealing with Exxon. So the workers said well what
can we do? I was like, we need to get you respirators. It's been like
this almost three months long saga now of BP consistently saying the
workers do not need respirators. If you wear respirators your jobs will
be terminated and people who get sick have food poisoning or heat stroke
even though the symptoms are also consistent with chemical poisoning.
JC: Was the same dispersant, Corexit used on the Exxon/Vladez spill?
RO:: We have some experience with Corexit 9527 from the Exxon/Valdez
spill. The use was more limited and when we saw that it had a human
health hazard in it we tried to shut it down. Unfortunately, all we were
able to do is the oil industry changed the names of the product.
pretended it was a bioremediation compound to help the bacteria eat the
oil. Still we only had 103,000 gallons of this industrial solvent
essentially put on our beaches compared to over 2,000,000 gallons of it
sprayed every day...
JC: Every day 2 million gallons?
RO:: Every day for a total of 2 million gallons so far. There is fresh
toxic dispersant being released every day on top of the oil. This is
unprecedented. It has never been done in the world before at this rate
over this long of a time. Nobody has absolutely any idea what will
happen. What we do know is that dispersed oil is more toxic than
undispersed oil and dispersed oil plus dispersant is more toxic than
We know that solvents, these are industrial solvents,
they totally wreak havoc on the central nervous system of vertebrates, -
birds, mammals, fish. We know that 2butoxyethanol it doesn't disappear
right away. It stays. It solubulizes in oil and absorbs into biological
tissue and then proceeds to wreak havoc. In people it is a fetal toxin.
It creates blood disorders, liver and kidney problems. It's an endocrine
disrupter, reproductive problems, the list goes on and on.
was unleashed into the Gulf, and I have not seen the studies being done
to tack where the dispersant is, how long it's going to be around, is it
being taken up by different species in the ecosystem? The materials
safety data sheet says that for Corexit 9500 it has the potential to
bioaccumulate which means work its way up through the food web.
over two and a half months in and the FDA still had no test for looking
2butoxyethanol in fish, in seafood that was supposed to be harvested
and put on the market. So its really this experiment of mammoth
proportions that's been conducted in the Gulf without anybody's consent
except the federal government. At what point do the people say this is
an assault on my body, this is an insult to my freedoms and this has to
We never reached that point where we emptied the world's
warehouse of Corexit 9527 just for example. Nobody has any idea about
the air transport of this with the hurricane season now coming on.
One thing we do know is that these dispersants are industrial solvents
and they make the oil worse. They break up the oil into little droplets
and package the droplets in solvents, little bubbles of oil wrapped
solvent floating around. The impellers of boats offshore are getting
chewed up and engines are overheating.
The impellers are hard rubber and
this is what dispersants dissolve, they dissolve rubber oil and grease.
The O rings of dive gear where people bring their dive gear into be
repaired, the dive shops are saying well your O rings are all shot put
your gear in the closet don't put it in the Gulf for the summer. Again,
soft rubber this time getting chewed up.
The people who have sent me
photos or I have seen in person of rashes to the point of blistering and
the blisters go below the dermis through subcutaneous and leave scars.
Oil alone does not do this. This is much more likely to be the
oil/dispersant package. The problem here is this stuff is coming in and
there is virtually no monitoring for it in the air, in the water.
JC: It would seem to beg the question why is there not some serious
documentation being gathered to try and collate that data and come to
some kind of conclusion as to what are the exact impacts of having all
these different compounds throughout the environment along the Gulf
coast of the United States.
RO:: What has happened is the federal government has managed - mismanaged
I think really - this whole catastrophe. We don't seem to have the real
time data 24/7 to show where is it different times of the day, what's
coming in. What I am seeing is that there are people across the gulf who
are sick and four federal agencies who cannot manage to find any levels
that are not safe.
I think part of the problem here is the federal
government has not been sampling at night for starters. Because an air
inversion gets started and pollutants get trapped near the surface at
Those pollutants have long-term consequences,
since crude oil ingredients cause mutations, cancer, and birth defects.
According to Burns, there is no justification
for the federal government misleading people on something this fundamental.
"People need honest information on air and
water contamination, and how to minimize contaminant exposure. Your
analogy to Jaws is right on target. The only difference is that this
shark is often invisible and so we must rely on the government to tell
us the truth. Instead we are awash in a sea of chemical lies."
Dr. Riki Ott on The
Failure of Democracy in the Gulf
I think the real problem here is we have
this pretend going on and the reason why is twofold.
The oil industry does not want to admit that oil
is this toxic even though they have known back as far as 1948 that the only
safe level for benzene is zero because it is a carcinogen. And BP does not
want to be held accountable for long term medical surveillance.
if you have the data to show that this person or these people got sick
because of this exposure the the spiller is actually required to do this
long term medial surveillance and help the people, pay for the people to get
What we're are seeing here is the same thing as Exxon/Valdez where
there is a very intentional move by the oil company to dodge the long-term
health monitoring requirements under our worker protection laws.
My personal experience was that within 48 hours of arriving in the Gulf
Shores area of Alabama I began experiencing intense headaches and
Our entire team was affected to varying degrees. Nausea,
vomiting, diarrhea, sore swollen throats, difficulty breathing, chest
congestion, and extreme gagging coughing reflex were typical for all of us.
After our two days of flying over the gulf courtesy of Bonny Schumaker and
WingsOfCare, my condition worsened.
All of the leading edges of the plane
were covered with a thick reddish-brown oily substance which was a mixture
of the oil and dispersant which was evaporating over the Gulf.
I stayed in
the area the longest and developed Chemically Induced
Fortunately for me I was able to return home to clean Colorado air recently
and have improved somewhat but for the numerous people who reside along the
Gulf Coast the option to leave is not viable, and the long-term effects of
Corexit dispersants are unknown.
During his Presidential campaign
Barack Obama ignited the hopes and dreams
of a nation - the world - with his inspired speeches about making not the
easy but the right choices; doing the right thing against challenges both
great and ominous.
The dreams he gave voice to have now,
dispersed like the oil in the gulf by his administration's own particular
brand of Corexit
the failure to deliver on promises and the embrace of
secrecy over transparency
Obama has shown himself to be a master
media operative, a superior orator, but in the end just another politician
answering to not the call of history but corporate interests
Several friends who are influential in the environmental
community urged me to exercise caution before heading to the Gulf and take
it easy on the administration if I discovered information that would portray
the Obama team in a bad light as the alternatives to him being in office are
perceived by many as being worse.
After hearing that I did my own informal
survey of friends and acquaintances for their take on this and the best
answer I got was from the head of one of the leading NGOs who said,
passes are done, let fly Jer."
Personally, I believe Obama is destined for
the one term club. But sadly here's the rub; it never mattered anyway.