Posted: 04/20/2012 10:10 am
Updated: 04/20/2012 10:18 am
Nicole Maurer of Buras, La., displays the contents of her kitchen cupboard: an array of her kids’ medicines.
SOUTH PLAQUEMINES PARISH, La. — Julie Creppel raises six children here, steps away from the lapping waves of the Gulf of Mexico. Her modest mobile home, on a narrow peninsula roughly an hour and a half south of New Orleans, puts her about as close as anyone to where, two years ago today, a BP offshore drilling operation went terribly wrong, spewing 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf’s constant saltwater churn.
It was the worst oil disaster in U.S. history, though for much of the nation, it remained a worrying but distant drama. Creppel says that for her and her family, the impacts were very clear and very present. The spill, she says — and the months of efforts to stop it — made them sick.
One son, 2-year-old Wyatt, struggles with constipation and severe skin rashes, Creppel says. Daughters Kylee and Atrea suffer massive headaches almost daily. Kasie, meanwhile, is due for an electrocardiogram for her heart palpitations. Just about everyone in the house relies on a steady supply of Nasonex nasal spray to clear their permanent congestion. Creppel counts 17 prescriptions filled for the family’s ailments just last week.
“It was like a war zone,” Creppel says, recalling the squadrons of military and support planes overhead, the smoky air and the unforgiving chemical stench that characterized the summer of 2010. “When we would walk out on the porch, we couldn’t breathe. Our eyes and throats would burn.”
Creppel’s complaints are not unique, and others nearby who have developed ailments share her suspicions that relentless exposure to burning oil fumes, wafting chemical dispersants and other environmental insults tied to the spill and its aftermath have compromised their health. Complaints range from the general — confusion or persistent exhaustion — to the specific: headaches, stomach pains, chronic, heavy coughs.
Not everyone is convinced — and for good reason. Monitoring and research so far on the Gulf Coast has yet to make clear scientific links between health concerns and the oil spill, whether exposure to the crude oil, vapors, contaminated seafood or the chemical dispersants used to break the oil apart. A dearth of long-term studies on previous oil spills doesn’t help. Of course, the BP spill also differed from each prior disaster in terms of its magnitude, duration, emission source and an unprecedented use of dispersants and controlled burns.
“We have a piece here and a piece there, but we don’t have the whole picture put together,” says Dr. Robert Geller of Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health. “The sense I have: Many children have symptoms, but it’s unclear if the symptoms are related to the Gulf oil spill, or in spite of Gulf oil spill.”
The federal government, with several academic research institutions, is actively monitoring the health of a large number of cleanup workers and coastal residents in an effort to fill in some of the missing pieces, but findings are likely still years away.
That comes as cold comfort to residents like Creppel, who are convinced that the proof is plain in the persistent coughs and sniffles of their children.
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- AP Photographer Describes Gulf Oil Spill Then, Now (abcnews.go.com)
- Scientists: Fish are sick where BP’s oil spill hit (dawn.com)
- More Oil Spills Since The Gulf (bfreenews.com)