Gulf residents launch walk to Washington, D.C., for awareness of post-spill health issues, other concerns


Almost a year after the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded, Cherri and Forest Foytlins say their family – including six children – is approaching financial ruin as he continues – as he continues to look for work in Gulf oil fields.

She says blood tests show that she has elevated levels of toxins that can be found in crude oil, and, like many residents of the oil and fishing towns in south Louisiana, Cherri Foytlin believes the nation and its political leaders aren’t paying enough attention to a struggling region in the aftermath of the worst oil spill in American history.

Her solution is a 1,243-mile walk from New Orleans to Washington, D.C., starting this morning and scheduled to stretch 31 days. She will be joined by another Gulf coast advcoate, fisherman Drew Landry.

“This is a pilgrimage of love for the people of the Gulf. I am taking their concerns about health, the economy, the environment and the claims process to the president of the United States,” she said. “My walk is a universal and non-partisan event; it is about preserving our civil rights as a nation, and our human rights as a global community.”

The pair is scheduled to arrive in the national capital on April 13, where they want to spend several days meeting with federal officials, starting with President Barack Obama, and any other movers and shakers who will listen to their plight.

Among her top priorities is a bill to address health care needs for clean-up workers and Gulf residents who say they are suffering ill effects from exposure to the crude oil and dispersant. Foytlin is pushing for congressional hearings and systematic diagnosis and treatment.

Foytlin is not new to post-spill advocacy, having appeared on CNN in the aftermath of the explosion to ask the president to come see for himself the damage and the affected residents.

Ms. Foytlin has been fighting for the welfare of the families in the Gulf since the spill first began. She has cried and pleaded for president Obama to restore the people’s faith in the government by demonstrating accountability, transparency, and support towards residents affected by the oil spill. Prompted by desperation, but drive by hope, this walk represents her final attempt to reach the administration.

Post-spill health issues continue to be a source of debate after the spill.

On one side is mounting anecdotal evidence of sick workers and Gulf residents complaining of maladies – particularly respiratory and skin ailments – that generally can be associated with organic compounds found in crude oil. Some scientists and physicians have weighed in with tests on samples of seafood, human blood and Gulf Coast soil that show elevated levels of some of the same toxins.

Yet state governments, the FDA and the seafood industry all vouch for the safety of the seafood supply, and President Barack Obama’s National Oil Spill Commission acknowledged in its final report, released in January, only that health issues and the perception of inadequate government action are matters of concern.

The environmental sciences division of the National Institutes of Health is in the early stages of a comprehensive study that will track as many 25,000 clean-up workers for 10 years or more. It is billed as the most comprehensive health study ever conducted after a spill. The purpose is to discern any causal links between crude and dispersant exposure and medical conditions.

The agency also is issuing grants to university researchers who are conducting more narrow studies of residents who may not have had direct exposure during the clean-up but still reside close to the marshes and shore.

NIH’s top epidemiologist, Dale Sandler, said existence science on the issue is inconclusive. But she also warns that even the comprehensive study will not necessarily yield absolute conclusions, in part because the subjects come from a population that has long had regular exposure to oil and gasoline and Gulf seafood.

Bill Barrow can be reached at

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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