As I was writing an article in Venice, Louisiana about my last two days in the Louisiana Gulf area doing research on the effects of the BP oil gusher, the news broke of another oil rig-production platform exploding in the gulf 80 miles south of Vermillion Bay. At this time, Coast Guard helicopters and ships are heading for the burning oil rig where 13 crewmen on the rig have abandoned the rig. Apparently no oil drilling was occurring when the explosion occurred.
However, the effects of BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion are still widespread and dangerous. The past two days I have been in Grand Isle, Louisiana and Venice talking with clean-up workers, scientists and shrimpers about the effects of BP’s 206 million gallon oil gusher that filled the Gulf of Mexico in the 100 days the broken pipe remained uncapped. BP's Deepwater Horizon rig exploded April 20, 2010 and killed 11 workers. It was finally capped on July 15, 2010.
On the wide beaches of Grand Isle, the community is getting ready for the beaches to open for the Labor Day weekend, even though oil clean up on the beach continues. BP has a large sand cleaner set up on the beach. Oil laden sand is dumped into a chemical and hot water machine. A liquid goo comes out with oil and chemicals poured into a large tanker and the tanker is dumped at a “safe” site. Clumps of oil and sand that cannot be dissolved are dumped into trash dumpsters to be taken to a nearby dump. Clean sand is returned to the beach. This daily routine has slowly moved down the beach leaving “clean sand” until the next tide comes in bringing more oil. One beach clean-up worker told me at a restaurant he would certainly not let his family swim in the waters off Grand Isle or anywhere in the Gulf affected by the oil.
Several miles away, next to the last bridge before getting to Grand Isle, a clean-up crew is shoveling oil sand off a sand spit and putting it into large white sacks. One of the workers said that every tide brings in another layer of oil, coming in from the bottom on the bay, slowly moving onto the beach with sand covering it up until the workers arrive the next morning to begin the shoveling task again.
Shrimpers in the Port Fourchon area are working as oil cleaners rather than going out shrimping. I met several shrimpers as they got off a large ship that had taken them to outer beaches and islands to clean overnight. Huge white bags of oil sand were on the ship. One of the shrimpers (who did not want to be identified) said that while other shrimping areas had opened, the ones around Grand Isle had not—and for good reason according to the shrimper. “There is too much oil out there.”
One cleaner said that one of the saddest things he has seen are dolphins swimming in chocolate waters, coming onto the beaches to die.
Clean-up personnel and many others living around the Gulf still have the effects of toxic exposure-from oil itself and from the 1.8 million gallons of dispersants used to break up the oil on the surface of the Gulf, driving small droplets from the surface.
Bad headaches, hacking coughs, stuffy sinuses, sore throats, rashes and other skin maladies are common symptoms of clean-up personnel and of others observing the oil slicks. The effects on family members of those involved in the clean-up have not been studied yet.
When asked about the government’s report that much of the oil had “disappeared” because of the effectiveness of the dispersants, one worker said, “That oil is out there somewhere and if it was Spanish treasure reported to be missing, they sure as hell would be trying to find it.”
For those ready to hit the beaches of the Gulf Coast this weekend for their last swim before autumn, the warning of a clean-up worker should be heeded—he is not letting his family swim.