Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Evidence Mounts of Continued Harm from the Gulf Spill

Back in May, I interviewed two prominent scientists about the impact of the Gulf Oil spill. One was, Terry Hazen a microbiologist at Lawrence Berkley Lab and the other was Riki Ott, a marine toxicologist from Alaska, who became an activist after the Exxon Valdez spill. Hazen predicted that micro-organisms would play a major role in the aftermath of the spill as oil-eating bacteria would experience a population explosion, which would help absorb the spill to some extent. He cautioned against the use of dispersants except where absolutely necessary to protect extremely fragile shoreline areas.

Ott, concerned about an aftermath as devastating as the one after the Valdez spill or worse, rushed down to the Gulf to investigate and is there still. She has been tracking a significant outbreak of medical problems among people who have been in contact with the Gulf water. Primarily she has seen  persistent skin rashes that do not respond well to any kind of treatment. While they have commonly been misdiagnosed as bacterial in nature, (e.g. staph infections) or parasitic (e.g.scabies), there is growing evidence that the cause of these rashes are chemical in nature.

Residents and visitors have reported that they have “developed a rash or peeling palms from swimming, wading, handling oiled material or dead animals without gloves and shucking crabs from recently re-opened Gulf fisheries.” Some have even reported symptoms after swimming in their outdoor pools after a rain.

Criticizing the heavy-handed use of dispersants before Congress, former NOAA Chief Scientist Silvia Earle said, “The instructions for humans using Corexit, the dispersant approved by the EPA to make the ocean look better warn that it is an eye and skin irritant, is harmful by inhalation, in contact with skin and if swallowed, and may cause injury to red blood cells, kidney or the liver. People are warned not to take Corexit internally, but the fish, turtles, copepods and jellies have no choice. They are awash in a lethal brew of oil and butoxyethanol.”

William Rea, MD, who founded the Environmental Health Center-Dallas, and who treated a number of sick Exxon Valdez cleanup workers, said, “When you have sick people and sick animals, and they are sick because of the same chemical, that’s the strongest evidence possible that that chemical is a problem.”

Ott claims that the government, BP and local business people all want to downplay the problem and pretend that the spill and all of its impacts are over.


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