People Are Sick: It’s Time to Take a Serious Look at the Spill’s Health Effects


It’s what many of us feared from the beginning of the BP spill: People are getting sick, in many cases gravely ill, from the effects of the oil and toxic dispersants.

We’re seeing more reports from up and down the Gulf Coast of people suffering from a range of spill-related illnesses. One of the latest media reports comes from Fox 8 TV out of New Orleans, and it underscores the growing concern surrounding the spill’s human health issues.

The local case is a 22-year-old Gulf man who is disabled after a summer swimming in the Gulf. Today, he has no feeling in his left leg. He has seizures every day and suffers from internal bleeding. His doctors worry he may have been impacted by the oil spill. Biochemist Wilma Subra offers her widely circulated research showing high levels of toxins in the blood of cleanup workers and residents of coastal communities (see post: She makes the point – and backs it up with lab-certified test results – that people are indeed getting sick from this oil spill. According to Subra, the long-term effects, such as cardiovascular problems and liver and kidney damage, are very significant.

The bigger story here is that despite overwhelming evidence that the spill is causing widespread health problems in many coastal communities down here, we’ve seen little attention to the matter from the federal government. Health impacts got short shrift in the Oil Spill Commission report with one commission member, Donald Boesch, saying: “We were charged with being evidence-driven, and the fact is we’ve asked for and sought out evidence that the oil spill is the proximate cause of these health problems, and we just haven’t found it.” (see: Apparently, they didn’t look very hard. The national media has shed little light on the subject either.

We say this: The results are in, and people are getting sick from the oil spill – and these health issues need to be addressed at the highest levels of our federal government.

What’s called for is a congressional hearing with appropriate representation from the Center for Disease Control, the U.S. Surgeon General and the independent researchers who have been predicting a health crisis since the early days of this disaster.

This has been coming for a while. Our first blog post warning of serious heath consequences came on July 31, 2010 at 8:30 a.m. It was the first of many quoting Dr. William Sawyer, who has joined our team and helped produce several milestone findings.

Dr. Sawyer said then that “…based upon a published efficacy study of Corexit 9500 on southern Louisiana crude at 70 percent efficacy, it is estimated that approximately 1/10th of a billion gallons of crude has been suspended underwater. However, what remains is not normal crude, but highly toxic fractions of what was once crude. Because these chemical concentrations are underwater, the insidious effects of their presence are not clearly visible to the naked eye, and the large scope of application and the vast geography of the Gulf make it exceedingly difficult to track.”

Remember the reaction? By mid-September, CNN and others were reporting about intimidating calls made to Dr. Sawyer and other researchers clearly aimed at their ongoing research, especially as they came to expose both health impacts and concerns over seafood safety. It didn’t work.

Well, here we are. The problem with science is that you can spin your results in public messaging, but not in the emergency rooms and health clinics of the Gulf Coast. We can lament that the 11 deaths aboard the Deepwater Horizon were “preventable,” but the fact is that a lot more deaths may be equally preventable but, once again, the victims fall to government inaction and putting profits over safety.

Check out local cases and reaction here:

© Smith Stag, LLC 2010 – All Rights Reserved

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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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