Oil spill: Friday survey to evaluate physical, mental health in south Mobile County


Teams of experts will conduct public health emergency surveys Friday in south Mobile County to determine the oil spill’s impact on people’s physical and mental health.

Staff members of the local Health Department and AltaPointe Health Systems and epidemiologists from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will fan out in Bayou La Batre, Coden and Dauphin Island.

A similar survey is scheduled in coastal Baldwin County during the weekend.

After the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska, the rates of suicide, domestic violence and divorce surged in the areas most affected by the contamination of Prince Edward Sound.

Health leaders have been concerned that the same is ahead for Gulf Coast communities where, for generations, families have made a living from local waters.

Dr. Bernard Eichold, who leads the Mobile County Health Department, said the survey seeks to rapidly assess present and potential health effects, as well as people’s basic needs.

He said that the survey details will also point to ways to improve response efforts and disaster planning.

“Hopefully, we can come back in a few months and re-do the survey and see how far we’ve come to get the services to the people who need them,” said Sherri Crane, a coordinator for AltaPointe.

Crane said that the CDC randomly selected the 210 households to be visited by the survey teams. The survey typically takes 15 minutes or less to complete, she said.

“People who answer the door are going to be given a note to say where we are from,” Crane said, “then it’s going to be left up to them. There’s not going to be any pressure to participate.”

If no one is home, the teams will leave packets that include disaster preparedness brochures and information about the types of services available in the wake of the spill.

If anyone surveyed “is having a crisis,” a counselor is on call and will be available, Crane said, noting that many of the teams will include licensed therapists.

“It’s very important for people to participate,” Eichold said, “because it will help determine the response that is needed.”

A claim for reimbursement for the costs related to Friday’s survey has been submitted to BP PLC, which operated the ruptured oil well.

Earlier this summer, AltaPointe set up a Community Counseling Center at the Bayou La Batre Civic Center on Padgett Switch Road. On weekdays, a licensed therapist is on duty from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. to offer free counseling to anyone who stops by.

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

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