Rally For Truth
Grand Isle rally attendants question oil-spill reassurances
By Nikki Buskey
HOUMA — South Louisiana residents wary of assurances from the federal government that seafood is safe to eat, that the environment is recovering from the oil spill and that oil and dispersant pose few health risks to Gulf Coast residents will rally Saturday on Grand Isle.
Karen Hopkins, organizer of the “Rally for Truth,” said she is “sick of being lied to.”
“I’m tired of people thinking it’s all over because BP is gone and the well is capped and everything is fine,” Hopkins said. “Things won’t be fine for years.”
Organizers say the event’s aim isn’t to “bash BP or the government.” It’s a rally for local people to discuss what they’ve seen over the course of the spill.
The rally will begin at 1 p.m. at Pirate Island Daiquiri on La. 1 in Grand Isle. Organizers said they expect more than 100 to attend. There will be live music and free seafood for those who will eat it, and barbecue for those who don’t feel it’s safe.
Donations will be taken to help send a delegation of locals to Washington, D.C. They hope to compile a history of coastal resident’s feelings, experiences, beliefs and health to make their case. They also plan to bring documentation they’ve gathered themselves and data collected by independent scientists to back up claims about the spill’s health and environmental effects. Hopkins said she hopes to hold multiple rallies across the Gulf Coast.
Speakers at the rally will include Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser, Chauvin resident Susan Felio Price and others. Representatives from numerous state and federal agencies involved in the spill recovery and clean up have been invited.
Price said protesters are looking to share personal stories about how the oil spill has affected their lives and what they’re seeing in Gulf communities.
“Hopefully we can move people to action,” she said.
Price said her main concern is the safety of Gulf seafood. She said though many locals are wary that oil or dispersant chemicals are tainting seafood, fishermen are being forced back onto the water to fish as BP jobs dry up.
“We’re concerned because the way we eat seafood along the bayou, we’re getting a much higher dose than someone in New York,” Price said.
Federal scientists said last month that new testing has confirmed that no harmful amounts of chemicals used to break down oil during the BP spill are tainting fish, crabs, shrimp or oysters from the Gulf of Mexico. Out of 1,735 samples taken by the government, only 13 samples were found to have trace amounts of the chemicals, called dispersants, but they were all well below the federal safety threshold. Federal and state officials have ensured residents time and again that Gulf of Mexico seafood is some of the safest food in the world right now because of the extensive testing it undergoes.
But Wilma Subra, an independent chemist from New Iberia who’s being conducting seafood and soil sampling since the early days of the spill, said her tests have found high levels of oil-range organic petroleum hydrocarbons, chemicals from oil, in soils and soft tissues of shrimp, crabs, fish and oysters.
She’s also begun to find increasing levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs, that have built up in the tissues of fish, shrimp and crabs as they feed on other oiled marine life, she said. PAHs are a chemical scientists test to determine oil toxicity.
Subra said she and her colleagues are continuing to monitor wetlands and shorelines for oil in sediment and seafood tissues, looking to establish that “crude is still out there, and that aquatic organisms have it in their issues.”
She said they plan to monitor the coast long-term.
Subra said she believes the federal government’s testing is inadequate because the safety standard doesn’t take into account the effect oil toxins could have on vulnerable populations like children, elderly and sick people. She also said the amount of seafood the federal government considers a “meal” for the purposes of determining whether oil chemical levels are safe for human consumption is too low. The federal government considers a meal of seafood to be the equivalent of four shrimp, for example, Subra said.
On Grand Isle, Hopkins said she saw friends and family get sick from what she believes is exposure to oil and the volatile chemicals released.
Subra said slicks coming in from offshore were broken up into what’s called a aerosol by the high winds and seas. The clouds of small droplets of chemical caused respiratory illness, nausea and headaches for many Gulf residents, she said.
Price said she is one of the people who got sick. After working in the community center on Grand Isle, Price said she became hoarse and began to cough, her lungs started hurting and she developed a metallic taste in her mouth. She said her health problems linger.
Hopkins said the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, an environmental group that’s helped citizens perform independent air-quality testing during the oil spill, will be there with samples that show high levels of respiratory-irritant chemicals were in the air near Grand Isle during the spill.
“I want awareness. I want people who don’t understand what’s happened to hear what we have to say,” Hopkins said. “We won’t just be talking and pointing the finger, we’ll be presenting documents.”
Staff Writer Nikki Buskey can be reached at 857-2205 or firstname.lastname@example.org.