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From the Gulf, a Cry for Help

The public health crisis caused by the BP oil spill has received little media attention, and even less government help. Gulf Coast residents are trying to change that.

BP pollution sign, photo from southernstudies.org

Photo from southernstudies.org

A coalition of 154 organizations last week sent a letter to the heads of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Health and Human Services, asking them to take immediate action to address the public health crisis on the Gulf Coast triggered by last year's BP oil spill.

The groups that are part of the coalition include public health, environmental, and fisher advocates from across the United States, as well as faith-based organizations.

"We believe action must be taken immediately to help the people of the Gulf coast who are currently suffering health impacts and those who will become ill because of the continuing impacts of the BP oil disaster," the letter stated.

"It is unfathomable that the government has not yet acted to help those that have become ill."

The groups are asking EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson and HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to create a Gulf Coast Health Restoration Task Force including members of the affected communities.

They are also calling for implementing the national oil spill commission's health recommendations. Noting that current law lacks the ability to address health hazards from oil spills, the commission's final report called for long-term tracking of responders' health and community health in affected areas. But it also said that such research "cannot overshadow the need to provide immediate medical assistance to affected communities."

In addition, the letter called on the agencies to publish data sheets on health effects from mixing oil and chemical dispersants as well as any other products used in response to the spill, and to comprehensively restore the region's health, economy, and environment.

BP oil spill, photo by DigitalGlobe-ImageryA Crisis of Democracy:
Real Solutions to the BP Oil Spill

As Facing South reported in "Poisoned in the Gulf," a recent week-long investigative series on the post-BP spill health crisis, there are widespread accounts from throughout the region of health problems linked to the disaster, which resulted in the release of some 200 million gallons of crude oil into the Gulf as well as the spraying of almost 2 million gallons of chemical dispersants, both of which are known to damage human health.

Among the symptoms being reported by oil cleanup workers and residents of coastal communities are respiratory and gastrointestinal disorders, vision and memory problems, skin conditions, and bleeding from the rectum and ears.

"This was an unprecedented environmental disaster with never-before-seen quantities of toxic crude oil and dispersants released into our Gulf environments," said Lower Mississippi Riverkeeper Paul Orr. "It is unfathomable that the government has not yet acted to help those that have become ill."


Sue-Sturgis.jpgSue Sturgis is editorial director of the Institute for Southern Studies and co-editor of the Institute's online magazine, Facing South, where this article first appeared.

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