May 31, 2010
For 41 days, oil has been spilling into the Gulf of Mexico, creating a massive, wide-ranging disaster. Environmental and fishing groups in Louisiana say prolonged exposure to the oil in the form of tiny airborne particles as well as dispersants are wreaking devastating damage to public health. A consultant to the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) said: “Every time the wind blows from south-east to the shore, people are being made sick. It causes severe headaches, nausea, respiratory problems, burning eyes and sore throats.” Long term effects can well include neurological disorders and cancer.
There is even more risk to those laying booms and skimming crude oil off the surface of the water because of their close proximity to the crude oil. They are repeatedly exposed to air drops of chemical dispersant. EPA tests indicate that the combined effect of dispersant and crude oil is even more toxic than individually.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. There are undersea plumes of oil stretching out over 22 miles. These undersea plumes are endangering deep coral reefs and bottom dwelling organisms as well as tuna and snapper. On top of the toxic effect of the oil, the plumes are causing oxygen levels in the Gulf to plunge. Bacteria that are rapidly reproducing as they consume the oil, are using up the oxygen and other nutrients in the Gulf. The dispersants used to break up the oil are toxic. More than 800,000 gallons have been used so far. One fisherman asked, “Why are they using dispersants that are illegal in other countries?”
The fragile wetlands are under serious threat as thick oil reaches the coast. According to the U.S. Coast Guard, more than 100 miles of shoreline has now been affected by the oil. Wetlands are nurseries for many fish, shrimp, and provide a haven for migratory birds. Wetlands are also important because they buffer the shore from Gulf hurricanes. The head of Plaquemines parish said, “Twenty-four miles of Plaquemines parish is destroyed. Everything in it is dead.”
Oil kills birds by coating their feathers, impeding their ability to keep warm and to fly. The birds ingest the oil by trying to clean the oil off their feathers, leading to kidney and liver damage. Most birds exposed to crude oil die without human intervention. Marine mammals exposed to crude oil are affected in similar ways as birds. Oil coats their fur, the animal can’t keep warm and dies of hypothermia. So far 622 birds, turtles and dolphins have been found dead.
As of May 25, the area closed to fishing encompasses 54,096 square miles – an area roughly the size of France, representing almost a quarter of the federal fishing waters in the Gulf. This oil spill has killed the livelihoods of Gulf sea fishermen.
And what is the government’s response to this catastrophe? Let BP handle it!
Why let the people who created this devastation call the shots? It’s obvious BP is not doing everything possible to stop and clean up the spill. Just as obvious, the government has the immense resources needed to go in immediately, the way it rushed to war with “shock and awe.” Certainly, no one is able to undo the tremendous damage already done. But it could limit future damage much more than BP is limiting it.
Couldn’t the government bill BP for the cost of this operation – not to mention for all the damage? Couldn’t it strip BP of its profits? And even all its holdings, if needed to pay for a massive operation?
Yes, it could. And this is what the government would do if its aim were to control as much of the damage as possible.
But the only damage control the government is doing is political – to save the image of the Obama administration. If there’s anything that shows how much government under Republicans or Democrats is run in the interests of big corporations like BP, it’s this tepid reaction to BP’s created catastrophe.