UL Alumna, chemist, environmental activist, and MacArthur 'Genius' Grantee Wilma Subra is the primary source for this article addressing the fallout from the recent British Petroleum oil spill.

Mental Health Crisis Looms as Jobs Disappear; Toxic Dispersant Still Being Used; Unsafe Seafood Threatens Commercial Fishing and Human Health; Dead Wildlife Washing Ashore

NEW ORLEANS -- Nearly 4 months after the explosion that caused the BP oil disaster, the Gulf Coast Fund, a community-led philanthropy in the Gulf South, reports that a dangerous amount of oil and dispersant remains in the Gulf of Mexico. Contrary to what BP and government officials have been stating, over 53 million gallons of oil are currently spread over the coastal areas and are washing ashore in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and the Florida panhandle.

According to University of Louisiana alumna Wilma Subra, a chemist/microbiologist and advisor to the Gulf Coast Fund, the public has not been accurately informed about the catastrophic effects of the spill. "Just because the oil is no longer on the surface, it does not indicate that the area is healthy," she explains. "We've received reports from local residents all along the coast who continue to see oil on and off shore, as well as reports of hundreds of dead fish, crabs, birds, dolphins, and other sea life," says Subra. Samples of crab larvae taken from the Gulf have been shown to contain both oil and dispersant.

The spill released 172 million gallons of oil into the Gulf, and BP used 1.84 million gallons of Corexit, a dispersant that contains known human carcinogens and is banned in Europe. Despite denial by BP, local fisherman and residents report that dispersant continues to be sprayed.

"Commercial fishermen in the Gulf know the seafood is unsafe for eating and will not feed it to their own families," remarks Gulf Coast Fund advisor and community organizer Derrick Evans of Turkey Creek, MS. Gulf fishermen gathered in Panama City Beach, FL on August 15th to tell President Obama that the fishing grounds need to be closed until the seafood is thoroughly tested for safety. At present, no tests are conducted on seafood for the presence of dispersants.

BP Pulls Out, Yet Economic, Environmental, and Health Problems Continue

The fishing communities in the coastal areas of the Gulf remain hardest hit by the disaster. "Once the fisheries were closed, commercial fishermen had no recourse and BP was their only potential employer," explains LaTosha Brown, Director of the Gulf Coast Fund. "Workers were hired to clean up the spill but were not supplied with proper safety equipment," she says. Louisiana Environmental Action Network (http://www.leanweb.org), with funding from the Gulf Coast Fund, provided respirators and protective gear for the workers. "But BP told the workers that if they wore the respirators, they'd be fired," Brown reports.

Residents of Louisiana coastal parishes including Plaquemines, Terrebonne, and LaFourche continue to experience headaches, nausea, vomiting, burning eyes, and chest pains. Long-term health effects from chronic exposure to oil and dispersant include decreased lung function as well as genetic, cardiovascular, and reproductive damage. "Health issues will impact residents and clean-up workers for the rest of their lives," says Subra.

BP began pulling out of the region on August 5th, after the well was cemented. Clean-up jobs, already in scarce supply, have all but dried up, leaving few if any prospects for alternative employment. According to Brown, "Most of the fishing families have lived and worked in these communities for generations, and BP may have permanently destroyed their way of life. The pressures are creating a mental health crisis across all affected communities. The Native American tribes, the African American and Vietnamese American fishing communities -- all of these coastal communities are strongly connected to this unique environment."

"We're approaching the fifth anniversary of Katrina and the region still needs a comprehensive and appropriate economic recovery plan, one that addresses the ongoing issues from the hurricanes as well as this latest disaster. The government needs to ensure that the communities impacted by the BP catastrophe are able to live, pay their bills, and receive medical attention," states Stephen Bradberry, Gulf Coast Fund advisor and Executive Director of the Alliance Institute, a social and economic justice organization in New Orleans.

"BP and the US government need to be held accountable and keep their promises to the Gulf Coast," insists Aaron Viles, Gulf Coast Fund advisor and campaign director for the Gulf Restoration Network, a group focused on protecting the Gulf of Mexico.

"The long-term, cumulative damage to the coastal ecosystem, the food chain, and human health as a result of this disaster is huge and of great concern. It's not over. The damage is still unfolding," says Subra.

The Gulf Coast Fund is a community-led philanthropy founded in 2005 after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The Fund works to galvanize resources and support Gulf Coast communities and grassroots organizations. Since the BP disaster began, the Gulf Coast Fund has been mobilizing emergency resources, issuing grants every two weeks to groups in coastal communities hit hardest. Over the past five years the Gulf Coast Fund has distributed approximately $3,000,000 to over 170 grassroots organizations in the region, strengthening networks and relationships between community leaders. To view video footage of the effects of the oil disaster, and hear from local fishermen and residents, visit the Gulf Coast Fund's website.


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