Guest blog by Callie Casstevens, LABB summer intern. Callie will be focusing on researching the refineries methods of preparation in terms of hurricane start up/shut down and the (hopefully) proactive steps they take to prevent excess emissions during hurricane season/severe storms.She will also be helping with research related to the BP oil spill and outreach efforts. She is studying law at Loyola College of Law and is interested in environmental law. Callie can be reached at email@example.com.
“Pick your poison.” This is what the citizens of Port Sulphur, Louisiana were told by Coast Guard Captain Edwin M. Stanton, on May 13, 2010 inside the community’s Baptist Church. Concerned citizens, out of work fishermen, and crabbers, all sat lined in pews, listening…waiting for answers…wanting some type of help. In front of the church pulpit, lined in a row, sat the agency representatives, testifying repeatedly that “there was no health risks.” This is odd, since the Gulf Coast has had numerous reports of noxious odors, petrochemical smells, and people suffering headaches, nose bleeds, and severe respiratory problems, yet, the officials report there is no problem. That seemed to be the mantra for the panel, there is no problem, do not worry.
BP sent a representative to attend, Darryl Willis, who I would suspect was chosen because as he constantly declared, “I am from Louisiana, I went through Katrina.” in response, one attendee declared, “You may be from Louisiana Sir, but you are NO fisherman!” His maneuver to act as a “local” who understood what the fishing community was experiencing was not well received, after all, these individuals have lost their livelihoods and the means to support their families.
Many of those that attended were concerned about the red tape that the citizens have to maneuver through in order to receive compensation for their lost wages. Further, how and why they were not being hired by BP, and who exactly was deciding which fishermen to employ. One attendee stated, “My friends are sleeping with their phones next to them, waiting for that call.” Mr. Willis, the BP representative , assured them he would take note of their concerns and that he recognizes the fact that “there are problems.” But again, no solution, no definitive statements.
The dispersant chemicals being used over the oil spill was also of major concern to the citizens. The long term effect of the chemicals being used are not yet known, however, the helicopters have twice flown over and released the chemicals over the Gulf Coast to “disperse” the oil. Captain Stanton stated that the chemicals were not toxic, nor did they pose any risk. In fact, he stated that IF the oil reached the shore, it too would not be hazardous, he compared it to Noxema face wash, declaring it non hazardous and safe. When attendees became frustrated with the lack of transparency by the representatives, Captain Stanton stated, “Everyone in this room is guilty right? Everyone drives cars!” His response obviously did not answer any questions, nor did it help the situation.
The representatives all could agree on one thing, that more work and research was needed, as well as more collaboration between their agencies. They did express willingness to become more transparent to the public in order to demonstrate the issues that exist with the oil spill. However, all of them stated that the actual amount of oil spilling into the ocean is unknown, it could be anywhere between 2,000 to 4,000 gallons every day. Further, no solution has been found yet to fix the catastrophic leak.
When the meeting ended, the Louisiana Bucket Brigade was able to speak with Lisa Garcia, the EPA representative, as well as the OSHA representative about the need for transparency. The agencies recognize that there is a dire need for communication, and for individuals to report what they experience in order to garner a better picture of the entire situation. Interestingly, after the meeting my co-worker Anna and I went to go eat and discuss everything we had witnessed at the meeting, while sitting there Anna received a call. One of the fisherman called to inform her that right after the meeting he had gone to the claims department like he had been instructed to by the BP representative Darryl Willis. However, when he arrived the fishermen hired by BP were in the claims department quitting. BP had given them the $5,000 as promised to cover their initial losses, yet, once they turned in their time cards to get paid, BP deducted their hours from the $5,000.
I arrived originally at the meeting excited, thinking that the representatives would listen to the men and women who lived in the community, the individuals who know the water ways and the bayous like the back of their hands, and learn from them. However, I left the meeting feeling like the panel did not really hear the people, they only replied to them responses that seemed scripted. They did not address the communities concerns, their issues, or their problems. When a mother stands up and expresses her fears concerning her children’s health, something needs to be done. When a Grandmother stands up and declares her grandson has suddenly experienced nose bleeds soon after the spill, and how she is afraid to let her grandchildren play in the water, something needs to be done. The need for communication, transparency, and reporting is essential to remedy this grim situation. Something needs to be done.