“Only after the last tree has been cut down; Only after the last fish has been caught;Only after the last river has been poisoned; Only then will you realize that money cannot be eaten.”
— A Cree Prophecy
Well, it’s been four weeks since we left New York in a heartbeat and raced to the Gulf Coast. What have we accomplished? Not only have we recorded more than 15 full-length interviews and shot 15-20 hours of footage, we’ve also met new people that have helped us along the way and will be our friends forever.
It’s hard to fully grasp what the real impact will be here in Destin. Maybe a glimpse of what’s to come exists in the pictures we posted last week from Pensacola. Only 60 miles to the West, Pensacola has seen Florida’s heaviest oiling, but the rest of the Panhandle remains relatively unscathed.
Just like the vast majority of the oil in the Gulf, the oil’s effects on the residents of the Gulf Coast isn’t apparent on the surface. While there might not be much physical evidence of oil in Okaloosa County, dig a little deeper, and you’ll find that residents are still hurting from the impact of the spill.
From the charter fisherman to the waitress at Waffle House, every single business here is affected by the lack of tourists that would ordinarily be spending their vacations on the Emerald Coast. Without the masses of tourists coming to eat in the restaurants, stay in the hotels, and frequent the many shops and water-based activities that these beach towns offer, how will these businesses survive? Most business owners that we’ve talked to explain that over 80% of their revenue come in as little as 83 days in June, July, and August. With a sharp decline in tourism, where will local businesses turn to fill their tables, beds, and stores?
Another impact yet to be seen involves public health. What toxic chemicals are in the air and water, and what levels of these chemicals are safe for human intake? The “Gulf Spill Chemical Hazards Report,” published by Dr. Kathleen Burns and Dr. Michael R. Harbut (June 14, 2010) analyzes the different chemicals in both crude oil and oil dispersants and its’ effects on nature.
“Chemicals in crude oil and dispersants can cause a wide range of health effects in people and wildlife, depending on the level of exposure and susceptibility. Crude oil has many highly toxic chemical ingredients that can damage every system in the body. Dispersant chemicals can affect many of the same organs. These include: respiratory system; nervous system, including the brain; liver; reproductive/urogenital system; kidneys; endocrine system; circulatory system; gastrointestinal system; immune system; sensory systems; musculoskeletal system ;hematopoietic system (blood forming); skin and integumentary system; and disruption of normal metabolism.”
“Damage to these systems can cause a wide range of diseases and conditions,” writes Dr. Harbut and Dr. Burns. “Some may be immediately evident, and others can appear months or years later. The chemicals can impair normal growth and development through a variety of mechanisms, including endocrine disruption and direct fetal damage. They cause mutations that may lead to cancer and multi-generational birth defects. Some are known carcinogens, such as benzene (CDC, 1999). Many of the chemicals in crude oil and the dispersants target the same organs in the human body, and this increases the risk and may increase the severity of harm. In addition, the dispersants currently used can increase the uptake (dose) of crude oil chemicals and movement of chemicals into critical organs…individual responses depend on exposure and each individual’s characteristics.”
Recent sediment sampling by the EPA on the Gulf Coast has found that “the combination of oil related organic compounds exceeded chronic aquatic life benchmarks. At these levels, oil related organic compounds may cause risk to aquatic life” (http://www.epa.gov/bpspill/sediment.html#data). In addition, the EPA has found “levels of ozone and particulates ranging from the “good” to “unhealthy for sensitive groups” levels on EPA’s Air Quality Index” (http://www.epa.gov/bpspill/air.html).
Dr. Harbut and Dr. Burns state that studies “the government has on toxicity, persistence, and bioaccumulation should be made public. This information has not been adequately provided to the public or public health community. This severely limits the ability of people to make informed decisions and take appropriate protective action.” They conclude that “[the EPA] clearly do not warn people that many volatile organic chemicals from crude oil can have serious long term health consequences, including cancer and that some can cause birth defects and mutations.”
Dr. Harbut and Dr. Burns’ research shows the health risks associated with the crude oil/dispersant mix. These dangerous chemicals are not only present in the petroleum product/dispersant mixture on the beach and in the Gulf, but also in the air and sediment samples taken by the EPA. From their research, we understand that these chemicals have proven negative health effects on both humans and wildlife, and that the government has done a poor job of informing the public about the dangerous nature of these chemicals.
The Emerald Coast has some of the most beautiful beaches and oceanfront in the entire United States. Is it really possible that even without significant oiling on the beaches, living here is dangerous?