Oil Spill Health Survey: Nearly HALF of Participants Have Symptoms that Could Be Tied to Spill


Once again, a “red flag” is being waved over human health effects from the BP spill, and once again it’s a non-government group showing leadership on this enormously important and urgent issue.

This time, a survey of roughly 1,000 Gulf residents showed that nearly HALF have health symptoms that could be caused by the spill – and many of the sick are reporting limited access to the health care they desperately need.

The New Orleans-based Louisiana Bucket Brigade helped survey 954 residents in Terrebonne, Jefferson, Plaquemines and St. Bernard parishes between July and October with assistance from Tulane University’s Disaster Resilience Leadership Academy and Patagonia Clothing Company.

In a report in the Houma Today newspaper, Anne Rolfes, executive director of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, compared the health symptoms to those found after disasters like the Exxon Valdez oil spill, Hurricane Katrina and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Of course, Ms. Rolfes also noted that the Sept. 11 issues were only recently resolved, and it took an act of Congress to make that happen. There are obvious implications for how the health issue could play out for Gulf residents.

The findings of the survey are compelling and could be an early indication of just how widespread the spill’s health impacts may be. According to the Houma Today report: “…48 percent of those surveyed by the Louisiana Bucket Brigade reported an unusual spike of at least one health symptom.” The most frequently reported symptoms were coughs, sinus problems and eye and skin irritation, which survey organizers explained are consistent with chemical exposure.

We should note that the survey’s findings are completely in line with what one of my lead researchers, toxicologist Dr. William Sawyer, warned about months ago (see link to Dr. Sawyer video at bottom). He cautions that early symptoms of this type of exposure are frequently mistaken for the flu. Here’s a health-impact statement from Dr. Sawyer: statement by william sawyer.

Another disturbing finding from the survey is that many of the sick are reporting that they don’t have access to “health care and medical professionals versed in toxicology and chemical exposure.” Treating and curing illness is the difficult part here – but there is no excuse for failing to get sick people access to the health care they need. This needs to be done IMMEDIATELY. Everyday that the sick are unable to find proper medical treatment, the worse this situation is going to get.

The survey also sheds light on the brutal economic impact this disaster is taking on Gulf residents. From the Houma Today report: “…44 percent of survey respondents said the spill put their household’s primary provider out of work. Nearly a quarter reported needing, but not receiving, economic assistance due to lost income.”

This is exactly the kind of survey we should be getting from government health agencies, and while the more pressing concern has to be getting help to people made sick from the spill, we must also address why this work is being done by a university, a non-profit group and a clothing company.

See the survey report out of Houma here: http://www.houmatoday.com/article/20110304/articles/110309744

See a video from Dr. Sawyer on health impacts (tied to later stages of an oil spill) here: http://oilspillaction.com/new-featured-video-veteran-toxicologist-warns-of-increased-risk-of-cancer-and-birth-defects-tied-to-later-stages-of-spill-weathered-crude-and-tar-balls-unprotected-cleanup-workers-at-highest-risk

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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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