NEW POLL: 78 Percent of Respondents Are Concerned About the Health Effects of Dispersant; 38 Percent Believe Seafood is Unsafe for Consumption


A new survey from the University of South Alabama probably goes farther than it meant to – and certainly farther than it apparently realizes – in illustrating what is wrong with both the reality of the BP spill aftermath and the competing narratives surrounding it.

The survey by the University of South Alabama’s Polling Group measured 412 South Mobile residents on a variety of spill-related issues, including BP credibility and confidence in the safety of Gulf seafood. The results, covered by the university’s Vanguard newspaper, indicate that 60 percent of residents have no trust in information from BP while 59 percent have no trust in the federal government’s response to the spill. If that means 4 out of 10 folks in South Mobile would believe even a word that BP says, then that’s about four more than you would find in New Orleans.

Other findings from the survey: 62 percent of respondents feel the oil spill has negatively impacted their household income; 78 percent of respondents are concerned about the health effects of dispersants; and a whopping 38 percent believe seafood from spill-affected areas is unsafe for consumption.

The university researchers, though, offer telling comments in the USA Vanguard story. First, they say it’s perfectly logical to fear Gulf seafood, then they turn around and stress the importance of removing this “logical” fear for economic gain.

Note this comment from Steve Picou, the University of South Alabama sociology professor who released the research: “A serious chemical unknown with the dispersants is causing people to worry a lot about their own health, particularly those who are close to the coast. When you don’t know the chemical makeup of the dispersant that is 11 times more toxic than the crude oil…it’s logical.”

But then this troubling assertion: “More than anything,” Picou added, “it is imperative that we scientifically prove and communicate that the oil is of no consequence to health and the seafood is safe to eat. If we don’t do this, the impact will be here this summer, and the following summer.”

With all due respect, Mr. Picou, that’s just the kind of nonsense we have to get beyond. Actually, more than anything, we need to scientifically prove the truth and communicate the findings. I am not at all convinced (and apparently I’m in good company based on the survey) that BP or the government has proved that seafood coming out of the Gulf is safe for consumers.

Going in with the directive to “prove… the oil is of no consequence and the seafood is safe” might be good science in the eyes of the BP spin machine or NOAA, but it’s beneath contempt coming from a public institution. The survey’s findings will reportedly be presented at a National Science Foundation conference in New Orleans this week, where I trust that Mr. Picou will keep his motivations under wraps.

As we are all well aware, BP continues to throw around unprecedented amounts of research money down along the Gulf Coast – buying science, scientists and other academics. We would be wise to follow the research money back to its source before accepting certain “findings” as fact.

Check out the Vanguard report here:

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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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