Thursday, March 3, 2011

The gulf oil spill's toxic legacy

Obama's favorite restaurant on gulf coast closed because BP spill along with many others! The Age

SMALL trucks noisily patrol the beach behind Steve Fourrier's home in Grand Isle, Louisiana. From his deck he watches them dump sand into screening machines. Crews follow close by, dragging rakes along the beach.

Fourrier wonders when his grandson will be able to play in that sand again, and if he'll be able to put out his crab traps this northern summer. Most of all he wonders when, or if, Grand Isle will ever be the same again.

''The only answer you can have any certainty of,'' he says, ''is that absolutely nobody knows.''
Ten months after BP's Deepwater Horizon rig exploded and began spewing almost 800 million litres of oil into the gulf, and seven months after the well was capped, Elmers Island beach, like many, is still closed. Camardelle's Seafood, where President Barack Obama ate on his visit last June, has been closed since July. It has quietened down a lot since the height of the clean-up, ''when BP took over the world'', as Grand Isle ports commissioner Wayne Keller puts it, ''but we've still got oil in the sand and tarballs washing up on the beach''.

Michael Boatright, 53, has run an aquaculture and fish-farming business in New Orleans since 2004. ''I was on track for a great year,'' he says, ''but now all my customers are buying from Florida.'' He has sold everything from farm equipment to his watch to pay his bills. His phone has been cut off and his power will go next. ''Christmas was terrible,'' he says. ''I couldn't buy my grandson anything, and he was asking if Santa thought he'd misbehaved.''

Boatright has been diving in the gulf since he was 17. From last June to September, he dived as usual about once a week, in areas the federal government had declared safe and open for fishing. ''We didn't think there was much risk,'' he says. ''The water looked good, looked clean.''

In September he started experiencing dizziness and blurred vision, then vertigo and palpitations. By October he was passing blood and had severe nosebleeds. ''At first I was in denial,'' he says. ''I'm broke now, and like most fishermen don't have healthcare. But I was a paramedic for 25 years and I knew this was serious and abnormal.''

Last month he had his blood tested. The results showed extremely high levels of chemicals such as xylene and ethylbenzene, highly toxic carcinogens found in crude oil.

According to chemist Dr Wilma Subra, whose lab ran the test on Boatright and two of his diving partners, all three had the same results, and the mix of chemicals was an ''exact fingerprint'' for those identified when they tested samples of the BP crude erupting from the ocean floor.

Subra, a renowned environmental toxicologist with more than 30 years' experience, has been dubbed ''a modern-day Erin Brockovich'' by CNN. She and the Louisiana Environmental Action Network, which has been working locally since 1986 with more than 100 community organisations, have been conducting toxicity tests on clean-up workers, fishermen and coastal residents experiencing symptoms like Boatright's. Results like his are increasingly common, she says. One person had benzene levels 36 times higher than normal.


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