Special thanks to Pam Brundige Batson for this:
Disclaimer: Any facts that are mis-stated should be attributed to me, the note-taker who was jotting down things as fast as I could, and certainly not to the speakers, Dr. Ott and Dr. Picou, both who are brilliant, wonderful invididuals who have only the Gulf of Mexico, and the Gulf Coast communities best interests at heart.
On July 6, 2010 -- Day 77 of the Gulf Crisis -- Dr. Steven Picou, Professor of Sociology at University of South Alabama and Dr. Riki Ott, marine toxicologist and foremost authority of the Exxon Valdez disaster spoke to a group of people from Mobile and Baldwin Counties at Alabama Delta Resource Center.
An interesting and almost unbelievable note is that Riki Ott and Steven Picou became close friends after the Exxon Valdez incident. Dr. Picou left Mobile and spent a lot of time in Alaska conducting research about the social impact the oil spill had on residents. Riki Ott said, "Steven was there to help my people, and now I've come to help his people." Such is a bitter-sweet twist of fate.
Dr. Picou opened the meeting by speaking about what we can expect from the social impact, and how the cleanup efforts will be more destructive than the oil spill itself. He referred to PTSD -- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. He and Dr. Ott agreed that the BP disaster is the Exxon Valdez in fast forward mode, that everything is unfolding at a much faster rate. In Alaska, the first suicide took place 4 years after the spill. The Gulf Coast experienced its first suicide (the charter boat captain at Gulf Shores, AL) on Day 65.
Dr. Picou diagrammed how the loss of social capital emerges into a corrosive community. We have already witnessed the loss of trust in BP, and then the loss of trust in the federal government, then it dribbled down to the state government. (The newspapers and media are quoting leaders on the local government level as having lost trust in the state government.) When the only trust in government the community retains is for government at the local level, Dr. Picou warned that, too, will soon fade. (and it is) This downward spiral will continue until citizens turn against other citizens, then family members against each other. (Already, in the last 4 weeks, the hard-hit fishing community of Bayou La Batre, AL has witnessed a 50% crime rate increase.) Not only in Bayou La Batre, but everywhere that is directly affected, we're seeing what some are calling the "spillionaires" and what one member in the audience called the "BP Whores." In other words, BP picks and chooses who will work for them. One unemployed fishermen gets to participate in the Vessels of Opportunity program (skimming, laying boom, etc.) while his/her neighbor's boat sits idle, and the owner faces bankruptcy in less than a handful of months.
"This is not a 100-meter dash we're running. This is a marathon. And we haven't even run the first lap, yet."
Riki Ott describes the oil as an amoeba --- it's constantly moving, yawning, stretching, growing. It's an evolving monster and we are under siege by it.
"The Exxon Valdez incident directly impacted the lives of 22,000 people. The BP Oil Spill will directly impact the lives of 30 million people."
Dr. Ott --- "When BP says that we will make you whole again, what they are really saying is that we'll see you in court." 19 years after the Exxon Valdez, Exxon ended up paying 10 cents on the dollar for every claim filed. The law that is written holding oil companies responsible does not include: devaluation of property, or symptoms that are related to cold, cough or flu. This is the loop-hole that will get BP out of this. The toxins will attack our respiratory tracts, leaving long-term damage, yet because "cough" is excluded, BP will end up having to pay very few medical claims.
Dr. Ott said that we are in a democracy crisis, that she thought it was bad during the Exxon Valdez, that Exxon was aggressive and the U.S. government was passive, but what she is seeing here is much worse. BP is much more aggressive than Exxon ever was in that it is calling all the shots in the clean-up effort and has seized control of the media and censorship, even down to seizing control of no-fly zones. She said that if the U.S. government was passive during the Exxon Valdez, they are for all purposes sake non-existent during the Gulf crisis.
She said that one EPA whistle-blower had once stated that the South was the region of the country to which EPA formulated one extreme end of the spectrum for its "tolerance" test, i.e. how much people would take before they began to scream in protest. She said that Southerners are known to be more docile, accepting and respectful of authority, that it's the way we're raised -- a part of the "southern hospitality" package. With a twinkle in her eye, Dr. Ott said, "But just what if the South were to rise again!"
She came to the Gulf Coast May 3. What she witnessed caused even her to relapse into post-traumatic stress syndrome. She had to get away, if only for a few days. Memorial Day weekend she decided to fly back home to Alaska for a few days. She got as far as Seattle airport, turned around and came back. She knows what it is like, and for the time being, she isn't leaving us.
She stressed that the government doesn't have, nor will they ever have a Plan B. We, The People, must come up with a Plan B if we are to get through this. The killing will not stop with the spill. The killing of marine life goes on and on. The 4th year after the Exxon Valdez was when Alaska suffered the most. By that time, they knew the red herring population was gone forever. That was when the suicides began, starting with their very own mayor, who up until that point had been a courageous leader. 21 years later, the red herring is still absent in their waters, and they have no hope it will ever come back, at least not in our lifetimes. The Gulf will have many species of marine life that won't survive this, and which will never come back. We need to prepare ourselves for this inevitability.
Four years after the Exxon Valdez, the media was gone, no attention given to their dying communities, their dead wildlife and their sick and dying residents. She told us a story of how in a call of desperation, the community took all the fishing boats and every recreational boat available and blockaded the oil tankers from coming in to gather the oil from the pipeline. The FBI was called in, but they only got as far as Valdez, because the residents had every single boat in the water forming the blockade. They held the blockade for 3 days. Finally, the president called and said, "Okay, let's hear what these fishermen have to say, what they want." She warned that this is what will happen along the Gulf Coast. The rest of the world will forget about the sensationalism of the oil spill, while we witness the slow death of everything, both animal and human. We will be left alone to survive the economic, ecologic and human damage.
The three methods used by Exxon in 1989 that didn't work then, yet 21 years later BP is using these same tactics: Boom, Berms, and Dispersants.
Corexit is TOXIC. It is the equivalent of an industrial solvent. She said if you have to wonder how toxic it is, how toxic our waters are, look to how the propellars are being eaten off of the boats in the clean-up effort. Corexit has been proven to kill human babies in the womb, to destroy marine life, and is banned in almost every country in the world (including Great Britain) yet EPA has been powerless to stop BP from pumping millions of gallons of this toxin into the Gulf. Dr. Ott explained why EPA has been powerless. The laws were written 50 years ago. We must demand through pro-active measures that EPA amends its NCP product list to de-list this toxic agent.
During the Exxon Valdez spill, Corexit was used by Exxon. Exxon owned the production of Corexit at the time.
Guess who owns Corexit now? You got it --- BP
Dr. Ott says it is rumored in high circles that BP has almost exhausted the world's stockpile of Corexit. THAT is how much they've already pumped into the Gulf of Mexico. She thinks that after all of this is said and done, and the world witnesses the far-reaching damage from this toxic agent, Corexit will never be manufactured again. Unfortunately, our Gulf will have been offered up in sacrifice by that time.
Five components of oil: (and all of them toxic)
1) tar balls --- and don't let anyone tell you they are harmless because they aren't. They are congealed oil, and in the heat of the Gulf Coast, they are baking under the sun and becoming even more toxic all the time.
2) Oil mousse
3) Dissolved oil and dispersants -- this is the "invisible" oil. We don't see it, but it is there.
4) Sheen --- and this includes the "orange water" that is produced from the dispersants and is so very toxic
5) Air -- 92% of oil will go up and down from the surface in ultra-fine particles, rising in the air, forming in the clouds, coming back to us in the form of rain, then going back into the water again.
For humans on the Gulf Coast, air quality is our biggest enemy. If you can smell it, you know you're sunk. Once you can smell the oil, you've just been exposed to 1000 times the toxic levels. The oil mixed with Corexit is a chemical nightmare when it comes to air quality. She said that our communities are in desperate need of OEM physicians. The only way to detect chemical poisoning is through blood tests.
It was mentioned by someone who had spoken to a Hazmat worker with a moderate hurricane, the oil will be lifted and travel through the air, splashing against houses as far as 30 miles inland. Not only will this be nasty, but it poses a high risk of chemical combustion and uncontrollable fires.
Dr. Ott said that with a major hurricane, the ultra-fine particles of oil mixed with dispersant will be carried as far as 500 miles inland.
The "canaries" in our community will be these people (those who are most at risk from chemical poisoning)
2) Pregnant women
3) African Americans
4) Asthmatics or those with upper respiratory tract problems
5) Cancer survivors
People from the Orange Beach area voiced their concerns about people in their community already getting sick. Families with sick children are moving out. Even pets are getting sick. Dr. Ott is appalled that these areas are not being recognized, but warns that the government will not order an evacuation until it is too late, so people need to protect themselves. She said that Orange Beach is indeed a problem area and that the oil is going right past all that fancy boom and getting into Perdido Pass.
Benzene air samples have been collected, and the Mobile/Baldwin county area is rising every day, and we are already way above the levels deemed to be safe. (figures were cited but I can't read my handwriting on this, so I don't want to mis-quote)
Dr. Ott sat in a meeting with Lisa Jackson, administrator for EPA. Dr. Ott quoted Jackson as saying, "I am walking a fine line between truth and hysteria, as we are trying not to create a panic."
Real estate concerns were addressed. Homes are going to be devalued, both in Mobile and Baldwin counties. Many people at the meeting have already put their houses on the market in hopes of avoiding the real estate crash. Dr. Ott warned that "devaluation of property" is not written into the law that holds oil companies responsible for damages, because devaluation is too subjective. She cited the example of those who held red herring permits prior to the Exxon Valdez. These permits were a much-valued commodity, costing $400,000 each. When the herring died, the permits became worthless. Yet, the courts took Exxon's side on this, citing that devaluation of property is a subjective matter, thus Exxon was not liable. She said to look and learn from Alaskans' experience. If only the herring fishermen had sold their permits for $100, they could have proved devaluation. But when you can't sell something, you cannot prove how much it has devalued. Her advice: Get creative. For instance, those who know that their home value will drop into the toilet, ask yourself, "How much do I like my neighbor's house?" In other words, sell each other your houses for a couple of thousand dollars. That way, devaluation is proved.
Respirators --- Dr. Ott is furious that with everything we have learned about the long-term illness and deaths of the Exxon Valdez clean-up workers, that not only is BP not supplying respirators, but in a Louisiana parish, the local government bought respirators for the workers. BP then threatened to fire these workers if they wore them. Why? Because having workers wear respirators in some parts on the Coast, and not in others, provides a baseline for case studies.
She strongly suggests that each household provide themselves with respirators. "You keep a fire extinguisher in your house, don't you? Why wouldn't you have respirators in the event that the wind shifts and you're bombarded with poisonous air?" She stressed that especially during a hurricane, if the government doesn't demand evacuation, or any who choose to stay and ride out the storm, a respirator is a necessity or else you're just asking for chemical-induced poisoning.
Symptoms of chemical-induced poisoning: headaches, burning eyes, rash, cold, persistent/chronic cough, flu-like symptoms and cancer. She is appalled that the local governments have not closed the beaches. Granted, not many people are hanging around the beaches, but she reported one man who walked out into waist-deep water (I think she said it was at Pensacola) and came out with a red, blistery rash on his legs and had to seek medical treatment. Here again, she stressed that there is so much we don't know about this giant science experiment, that this man would not have been one she would have suspected to react so quickly and violently to the chemicals in the water, yet he did. She said that short-term exposure symptoms will usually dissipate if the person leaves the area and travels to a "clean" area. The people with children on the Gulf Coast, those who are experiencing symptoms should do that this summer --- get the heck out of Dodge. Long-term exposure is a different animal, however. The toxins can attack the respiratory tract, and cause liver and kidney damage.
She is concerned about the methods of disposal. They're taking the oil to local land fills, where they will burn it off, thus filling the air with even more toxins. She urged us to take community action on this, as well as demand that our water sheds and public water supply be constantly monitored. The "Bucket Brigade" in Louisiana is a group that is actively taking air samples.
There was so, so, so much more, but I'm tired of typing, and besides, there was no way to get it all written down. If ever you get the opportunity to hear this angel of a woman speak, I highly recommend it.
In essence her message to us was this: Democracy has just been hi-jacked. Don't look to BP or the federal government for help. Look out for yourself and your families. And come together as a community. GET PRO-ACTIVE and come up with a plan to keep the community as safe as possible.
In closing, she told us how much she identified with our little coastal communities, that we have been devalued for the sake of big corporations. She recommended we watch the movie, "Black Wave." Here is a link for the trailer.