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In the bayou, health concerns grow

Rocky Kistner

Posted May 19, 2010

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People in the Louisiana bayou have questions. Lots of them. 

They want answers about what’s in the water and the air that surrounds them. They want more protective gear for the local fishermen who are sent out daily as marine hazmat workers in a valiant—yet seemingly impossible—job to keep the poisonous oily waters at bay. They want BP to put a stop to eye-stinging chemical dispersants dropped by aircraft near their community. They say they have had enough of the evasive answers coming from BP and state and federal officials about what health impacts their kids may face years from now.

So on Monday (May 17), something unusual happened in the small fishing village of Venice. Local citizens organized a press conference and demanded that BP stop spraying aerial dispersants and provide a plan to evacuate residents if necessary. They demanded more masks and respirators for the fishermen and workers who go out on the cleanup boats, some who have complained of headaches and irritated eyes sitting in the toxic fumes. And they want answers to questions about the community health risks from petroleum air emissions that blow over their town and is captured by EPA monitoring equipment.

According to an analysis by the Louisiana Environmental Action Network, EPA data shows hydrogen sulfide emissions have exceeded concentrations that cause physical health symptoms by 10 to 100 times. But residents complain they can't get answers to their health concerns.

“They’re not telling us anything,” said long-time resident Kindra Arnesen, who is married to a shrimp boat captain now hired to clean up the invading oily tide. “They’re spraying this everywhere and our kids have been breathing this stuff for three weeks. Guys are being sent out there without respirators, even guys way out there burning the oil. We’ve heard reports of headaches, nosebleeds and allergy attacks. What’s going on down here is killing us.”

Acy Cooper, VP of the Louisiana Shrimp Association, also was at the press conference. He later said he was very concerned about the lack of protective gear for some of the fishermen doing the clean up.

“We’re very concerned about some of our boys out there,” Cooper said. “We’ve had reports of burning eyes and noses. We’re trying to get a handle on what equipment they have. These are all fishermen and they need to make money. They need to get out there to protect our coast. But we want to make sure they don’t get killed in the process.”

Yesterday, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal came back to Venice and flew over the marshes of the Mississippi Delta nearby. What they saw was discouraging. The oil has made its slow but methodical approach into the fragile marshlands, crucial feeding grounds that nurture the sea life of the Gulf. CBS News reported that thick, black oil was washing into some of the marshes at Pass A Loutre, about 10 miles from Venice.

The mass of oil continues to gush out of the blowout and is now the size of Maryland, according to scientists. But what’s underneath the ocean no one knows. One group of scientists found massive plumes of oil underwater that stretch at least 10 miles long and three miles wide.

But one of the most dangerous aspects of the spill is beginning to unfold. It’s slowly moving into the powerful loop current of the Gulf, which moves swiftly from west to east the south Florida shores and then up the east coast. Like the turtles in the movie "Finding Nemo," the oil will ride the swift current all the way to the Keys and possibly up the east coast. Only this time, many of the turtles likely will be belly-up. More than 160 dead sea turtles have been found so far.

Meanwhile, BP CEO Tony Hayward told Sky News TV that the environmental effects of this catastrophe will be “very, very modest” and that the cleanup efforts will be regarded as a “textbook example” of the way oil spill operations should be done.

Click  this link  to see you for yourself.

That doesn’t sit quite right with Venice resident Kindra Arnesen. “If this is a text book example of how to clean this up then they need to throw out the book and get another one. They’re murdering the Gulf down here. I have to keep my kids in my home like prisoners because I don’t want them breathing the air. After Katrina, I had to move my kids away from here for six months. I don’t want to do that again. But I will if I have to.”

Kindra and many others in this community are still waiting for answers about potential dangers to their health. The toxic tide shows no signs of stopping its slow, relentless death march to the fertile fishing grounds around here.

A mile below on the ocean floor, oil continues to gush into the sea.

(Photo credits: © Rocky Kistner [top], NRDC [bottom])

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michael nycMay 20 2010 10:53 AM

Can any thing be done ? – now that the coast guard is protecting BP from media and any reasonable fix what can we do or have done ?
There are POSSIBLE STOP LEAKS that are never aired in the the media that could have been done from "DAY ONE" -
but who would be allowed to implement them ? -This my latest post:
Possible stop leaks
– drill deep (about 1000ft) new adjacent shaft a few feet away from old shaft – place explosive charge at bottom and fill/cover/seal with cement – explode charge to collapse wall and fill with rock, earth etc.
OR – insert a pipe/hose containing a shut off valve into the existing hole that would have a flange that expands inside and does not have back pressure to oil escaping – then shut off valve ...
OR – discharge "liquid nitrogen" into leaking pipe thru a small hose from surface inserted as far in as possible – thank you
Michael Gruters – former faculty physics Princeton late 60' –
p.s. the use of dispersing chemicals make surface removal impossible and poisons the sea – really stupid....
p.s. current plan to bring oil to suface by inserting a smaller pipe does not seal the leak and is only temporary

PerdidoMay 20 2010 10:36 PM

The fumes from the spill have been toxic on the Gulf Coast the last 2 days. When the sea breezes pick up, the smell from the oil makes your sinuses burn and gives you a headache. I can't imagine what it must be like in La. We are 50-100 miles away. The EPA website with the air monitoring is not easy to find information. The monitoring locations are listed in Latitude and Longitude.

Morgan DoubledayMay 21 2010 12:56 PM

You can't be serious saying the impact of this will be minimal. It will be a disaster felt 100 years from now. I worked on the Exxon spill and we will find oil on the beaches in PWS for many years to come. BP is lying for money related reasons.

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