Like so many others in this region, I am loathe to relay any information that would make someone avoid tourism or our amazing seafood, but it’s been a year since 11 men died, 200 million gallons of oil and at least 2 million gallons of dispersant were dumped into the Gulf and it’s time to face some facts. Tar balls still wash up on the beaches everyday. The marshes are a mess. Unprecedented numbers of dolphins and sea turtles are dying. Fish have lesions. Fisherman are out of work. Businesses shut down. Less than 20% of the BP billions set aside for the affected have made their way to less than half of the 500,000 claimants. But, 97% of the 100,000 quick pay claims have been paid – one time payments of $5,000 to $25,000 in exchange for agreeing not to sue BP.
As to seafood safety, the government testing was for a 170 pound person eating 4 shrimp a week. I weigh significantly less and eat at least 20 shrimp a week without even seeking it out. Order a steak, it’s often topped with at least half a dozen shrimp. Order a salad, ditto. Soups and sauces are made with shrimp stock and on and on. I continue to eat the seafood as, sadly, it’s more tested than seafood from Vietnam, etc., but the most common test is the “sniff test” (smelling the seafood) which may detect oil but not chemical dispersants. And heck, American foods are so full of chemicals, hormones and now radiation, may as well eat our glorious seafood instead of crappy tasting processed and fast foods.
Still, information is power and you should know that according to the St. Petersburg Times, “Anglers who had been working the Gulf for decades began hauling in red snapper that didn’t look like anything they had seen before. The fish had dark lesions on their skin, some the size of a 50-cent piece. On some of them, the lesions had eaten a hole straight through to the muscle tissue. Many had fins that were rotting away and discolored or even striped skin. Inside, they had enlarged livers, gallbladders, and bile ducts.”
And then there’s the dolphins. Since the BP gusher, over 400 dead dolphins have washed onto the shores, at least 10 times the yearly average. During the Valdez debacle, researchers learned that for every animal they found dead, at least 50 disappeared into a watery grave. That means over 20,000 dolphins have died. Many of those found were babies and stillborns. To make matters worse, the biologists studying the event were ordered by the Obama administration, via the National Marine Fisheries Service, to keep their findings confidential. What possible good could come from keeping test results quiet?
Dolphins are mammals, like us, so it should come as no surprise that humans are also increasingly ill. Gulf Coast cleanup workers and residents have levels at least 10 times the national average of toxic chemicals present in oil and the dispersant. A child who’d never been to the beach or eaten seafood tested with levels higher than his parents, one of whom was a clean-up worker, suggesting that the chemicals are in the air or household water.
Meantime, Transocean, the owner of the Deepwater Horizon rig, gave hefty cash bonuses to execs for their, “Best year in safety performance in our company’s history.” Our government has given BP the green light to restart deepwater drilling on 10 wells in the Gulf this Summer. The rich get richer.
If you’ve followed the story at all, you know that BP has, by far, the worst safety record in the industry, that they ignored repeated directives by the EPA to quit using the dispersants which are banned in at least 19 countries, including BP’s UK. The formerly heroic Coast Guard gave BP 74 exemptions to the directive in 48 days, meaning they were complicit with the dumping of untested and banned chemicals. And you probably know that it was all in an effort to sink the oil out of sight. In that way – it worked. Nationally, most people believe the oil is gone. As a matter of logic, if you spoon sugar into hot tea, some sinks, most dissipates into the liquid, altering it chemically. Would you say the sugar is “gone?”
The people of the Gulf region will tell you (and show you) that the oil continues to wash ashore in tar mats and tar balls. There are subterranean pockets of oil under the beaches. Large fish kills appeared along the coasts of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida less than 4 months after the gusher began. Bird kills followed suit accredited to things like cold weather and fireworks, but autopsies revealed massive and unexplained internal bleeding. The NOAA, in whom we are supposed to trust, admits to doing no tissue sampling on the dolphins, sea turtles or other dead animals. Oystermen report that rather than the 3,000 sacks a day they dredged in previous years, they are limited to 10 sacks a day. Another noticed that only about 10% of the boats are working the waters this year. It’s just as well, the oyster population is decimated.
A final word before the happy-ish ending. It’s been over 30 years since Mexico’s Ixtoc oil disaster. The oyster and clam populations still haven’t recovered. It’s been over 20 years since the Alaskan Exxon Valdez disaster and the herring population appears to be gone forever. Information is power and just knowing how much money and corruption has gone into making sure we don’t know what’s happening makes me want to stay informed. I continue to check in daily with attorney Stuart Smith‘s blog. Though he’s actively engaged in suing BP, et al, his posts are always well researched and include links and articles cited.
He’s also one of the people behind yesterday’s fundraiser at the House of Blues featuring Kevin Costner and Modern West as well as the Voice of the Wetlands All-Stars. One year ago, Kevin and his band played the Beau Rivage in Mississippi. My date had to cancel last minute because of an explosion on a rig in the Gulf, men were missing, a fire was raging. My family and I went anyway and had a wonderful time, oblivious to the horror that was about to unfold.
Throughout the year, Costner has been on the scene trying to provide BP with machines to aid in the clean-up. Looks like things are still moving at a snail’s pace but his heart continues to be in the right place. The concert at the House of Blues benefitted the Oil Spill Memorial Fund and the Gulf Coast Fund. The fund helps pay for medical care, the kind BP promised before they spent $5 million a week on commercials to say the oil was gone and all was well. Tony Hayward has his life back while sick children go untreated.
The concert was great – fun, intimate, energetic and personal. Kevin made mention of Katrina a number of times bringing home the point that this region had plenty to recover from after the last catastrophe before this one came along. With so few voices crying out in defense of those affected by BP, their cohorts and our complicit government, it felt good to see that at least one Hollywood star is willing to keep making noise.
Afterward, the Voice of the Wetlands, a band of NOLA musical luminaries took the stage. Cyril Neville, Anders Osborne and band-founder, Tab Benoit, fronted. Considering I’d given up seeing Anders for free at Lafayette Square to attend the fundraiser, I was happy to see him onstage. Though we left 2 songs in to watch the end of the Hornets/Lakers game, I’d seen Alan Toussaint in the green room and knew it was going to be a hell of a show.
Voice of the Wetlands is more than just an All-Star band though, it’s a non-profit founded by Benoit designed to protect and restore the wetlands so critical to the welfare of the Gulf region. On the website, you can download Costner and Modern West’s song Gulf of Mexico, a beautiful ode to the people of the coast. All proceeds go to Voice of the Wetlands.
I encourage you to stay informed. Information is power. And I ask you to care. What happens here, happens to the food chain. What happens here affects gas prices. What happens here happens to America.