Children on the Gulf Coast are falling ill in record numbers. Children who never had health problems before the BP oil spill are suffering from an array of debilitating ailments from chronic bronchitis to staph infections to acute sinusitis to mysterious “stomach viruses.” The ranks of the sick continue to climb, overwhelming doctors and clinics up and down the Gulf Coast. And to make matters worse, few treatments and medications – like antibiotics – seem to be working, so symptoms persist. Local doctors are baffled. Parents are panicked, frustrated and knee-deep in medical bills. But, of course, it’s the children who are suffering the most.
As we approach the second anniversary of the worst environmental disaster in our nation’s history, coastal communities on the Gulf of Mexico are in the grips of a spiraling health crisis. Symptoms consistent with chemical poisoning are becoming increasingly common – particularly among children – and lack of medical training and resources is exacerbating an already dire situation.
A new video from the nonprofit Louisiana Environmental Action Network (LEAN), which is going viral this week, does a superb job of documenting this forgotten chapter in the tragic story of the Gulf oil spill.
In the video, Julie Creppel recounts the situation in her coastal community of Buras, Louisiana, in August 2010:
You could still smell the chemicals every single day. Your filters that you put in your [air conditioner]… within a week they’d be black. They told us to stay inside and leave your ACs on. Then you go to check your filter and it’s black. So how is that helping?
Today, Ms. Creppel’s kitchen looks like a pharmacy, her cupboards and counters bursting with prescription medications for her three children. Everywhere you look: pills, inhalers, cough syrups, nasal sprays. Her son has had upper-respiratory problems and infections of every stripe since the oil spill. He has been prescribed antibiotics “at least 11 times, maybe 12” since August 2010. Ms. Creppel’s 12-year-old daughter has been diagnosed with acute sinusitis and a mysterious stomach problem that has been bothering her for months. More from Ms. Creppel on her daughter’s condition:
I’ve had to pick her up multiple times from school since the spill. I never picked her up before. She has stayed sick and missed more school now than she’s ever missed before, because of her stomach… She swears it’s killing her.
According to the Creppel’s family doctor, health problems are persistent and widespread. “From Port Sulphur down, she’s had more sick kids this year than she’s ever had in all her years of being a doctor,” Creppel says.
A growing number of coastal community families are reporting similar cases of child illnesses – and a frustrating lack of answers as to the cause. From Betty Doud of Grand Isle, Louisiana:
One is two and one’s five. They’re my grandchildren. Runny noses all the time. They never used to have that. Breathing problems continuously. Both of them are diagnosed with bronchitis. With the five-year-old, they think it may be chronic bronchitis. She never had any of these breathing problems before the spill.
You bring them to the doctor, and all they can say is “oh they’ve got bronchitis,” or “they’re getting a cold.” Well what’s the green stuff from? How come they’re always throwing up, you know? Two and three times a week, they’re throwing up for no reason at all. What the hell is causing it? The doctors don’t know.
Gulf Coast doctors – many of whom lack the advanced training to diagnose and treat chemical poisoning – are prescribing antibiotics at a blistering pace in an attempt to stem the wave of sickness. They simply don’t know what else to do, but over-prescribing antibiotics can cause its own problems. From Shirley Tillman, a Mississippi coastal resident:
I have a two-year-old grandson, who’s now three, who has been sick since September after the spill in 2010. His immune system was so low that they couldn’t de-tox him. So they’ve just had to naturally try to – with eating habits and things like that – to try to get his immune system built back up.
Upper-respiratory problems, fevers for no reason and things like that. But you can’t take him to the doctor because most doctors just want to give him antibiotics. And that’s what helped destroy his immune system in the first place.
So now when he has a flare up…his parents just try to you know ride it out and hope he can beat it on his own. Because the minute you take him to the doctor, they’re going to want to put him on an antibiotic.
Many families here on the Gulf Coast are running short on hope. And who can blame them? State and federal officials have been atrociously slow to address the health impacts of the spill. The approach seems to be to ignore the problem and hope it goes away. Well, not only is it not going away, it’s getting worse with each passing day. Consider this from commercial fisherwoman Darla Rooks, who along with her young son have been laid low by post-spill health problems:
We have no medication. We have no treatment to make us better. It’s almost like: Why go to the doctor in the first place? You’re just throwing your money away, ’cause they’re not helping. How do you expect [doctors] to know there’s a problem when they’re listening to the media everyday? A doctor don’t leave his office to know that there’s oil out there. That they’re spraying Corexit 9500 out there on the water still. And that the seafood is dying and people are dying. Because it’s hush-hush, swept under the rug. Out of sight, out of mind.
Meanwhile BP is pouring millions into a new slick advertising campaign to lure people back to the Gulf – claiming the beaches, the seafood and life in general are all perfectly fine. Don’t believe it, not for a second. I urge everyone to watch this video from the Louisiana Environmental Action Network before you plan your family vacation. The Gulf Coast is my home. It’s where my heart is, but tragically, it will never be the same.
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