BP Gulf Oil Disaster—NAACP Investigation DAY VII—Pensacola, FL

Pensacola, now one of Florida’s top tourist destinations, has a rich and colorful history dating nearly 450 years, being the first European settlement in the continental United States. In Florida I had the fortunate of visiting with some of NAACP’s leaders from the Panhandle region including Eladie Sampson, Elvin McCorvey (Pensacola Branch President) Sabu Williams (Okloosa Branch President) and Lewis Jennings (Panhandle Area Director).

Before we visited the beach to see how the oil was already impacting the shoreline, and by extension, tourism and livelihoods, the team shared some observations and reflections on the situation.  One of the members, Lewis, had extensive experience dealing with hazmat materials in the military. Through this lens, he expressed concerns about the classification of oil in this situation as not having the level of hazard designation that he thought would be warranted. Relatedly, he worried about what he considered to be insufficient hazmat training, as well as lack of standardization in protective covering for workers.

Other matters raised by the group included concerns about what they deemed as potentially inadequate air quality monitoring. They felt that there needed to be closer attention paid to pockets where there might be higher concentrations of airborne toxins. They suggested that there are some local facilities that can be utilized to optimize air quality monitoring. Another issue was whether employees of businesses are receiving the same level of outreach and access to the claims process as business owners.

Structurally the group recommended that the voice of the community needed to be uplifted in decision making processes around the oil spill and disaster management to ensure that all needs are being met. The team stated that representatives of constituency based groups should be in place at all levels of emergency management policy making and program design systems

On Pensacola Beach, we observed clean-up crews collecting tar balls.  Off-camera one worker stated that he had been instructed that if he speaks with the media he would lose his job. 

Elvin McCorvey pointed out the diminished presence of beach-goers on the sand and in the water. He also talked about the ripple effects from the fishermen, to the hotel restaurant workers, to the maids that clean the rooms.

Ms. Eladie Sampson shared her observations of the clean-up work, as well as her analysis of the looming impact of the disaster on the tourism industry in Pensacola.

Sabu Williams also showed how the appearance of the beach was already changed from the “white sand beach” to a tannish/gold color due to the oil sheen. He also talked about how this would affect tourism.

Lewis Jennings expounds further on his thoughts re hazmat management, the effects on local livelihoods, and also shows the media attention that has been garnered by this disaster.

As we were leaving the beach we came upon a tarball that the clean-up crews missed.

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