BATON ROUGE – Dr. Mike Robichaux of Raceland appealed to members of the Capitol media to pay more attention to health concerns that coastal residents, first responders and rig workers are attributing to last year’s oil spill.
A practicing ear, nose and throat physician, Robichaux led the Baton Rouge Press Club through roughly a half dozen case studies that highlighted his patients’ ailments and afflictions: a 3-year-old with blotchy skin, a relief worker who lost his sight and others.
“This is happening to hundreds and hundreds of people,” said Robichaux, a former state senator.
Clayton Matherne of Lockport, one of Robichaux’s patients, told the group of his tribulations as an oil-spill relief worker.
He said his “lungs went out” at one point after the spill and he spent five days at Terrebonne General Medical Center “spitting up my own blood.”
Matherne said he and his wife spent their entire bank account on his medical treatments and it took 10 months before they found a physician who was willing to treat him for spill-related symptoms. He said most doctors have been unwilling to accept the oil spill as a cause for his upper respiratory problems.
Many environmental groups have had the issue on the front-burner since April 2010, when BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig exploded and began leaking crude into the Gulf of Mexico.
The New Orleans-based Louisiana Bucket Brigade recently conducted nearly 1,000 health-related surveys in southeast Louisiana and found that “almost three quarters of respondents who believed they were exposed to crude oil or dispersant also reported experiencing symptoms.”
Additionally, “nearly half of all respondents reported an unusual increase in health symptoms – coughing, skin and eye irritation, headaches – consistent with chemical exposure.”
In Terrebonne, 92 residents in Chauvin and Cocodrie and 157 residents in Dulac were surveyed by volunteers who went door to door and visited community hubs like grocery stores and gas stations.
About 30 percent of those surveyed in Dulac and 34 percent in Chauvin said they experienced the same symptoms and about 15 percent of residents in both communities believe they were exposed to crude oil.
Robichaux said he has personally seen 40 patients with what he deems oil spill-related ailments since the spill.
Mary Lee Orr, executive director of the Louisiana Environmental Action Network, also spoke briefly and reminded reporters that the big picture on the health-care impact will take lots of digging and patience.
“It’s sort of like gathering evidence at a crime scene,” Orr said.
Capitol Correspondent Jeremy Alford can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.