Voices of the Gulf—Addressing Mental and Physical Health Issues

Both in my conversations with Gulf communities, and in my extensive reading on the impacts of this disaster I learned that physical and mental health needs have escalated with documented reports of high levels of volatile organic compounds in the bloodstream of Gulf Coast residents, physical effects from exposure to toxins, increases in depression, as well as alcoholism and substance abuse, etc. “The key concern expressed by the community in response to the report is the overwhelming need for access to health care. Over and over, people exposed to crude and dispersants from the drilling disaster told stories of serious health issues–from high levels of ethyl-benzene in their blood, to respiratory ailments and internal bleeding—and expressed an urgent need for access to doctors who have experience treating chemical exposure,” states LaTosha Brown, Director, Gulf Coast Fund for Community Renewal and Ecological Health which provides grants and support to over 250 community organizations on the Gulf Coast.
In a recent commentary in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), public health researchers warn that chemicals in the oil spilled from the Deepwater Horizon rig and the dispersants used to clean it up pose short and long term threats to human health, especially if they are inhaled or contact the skin. Also, certain harmful chemicals could accumulate in Gulf of Mexico fish and shellfish, posing a seafood contamination hazard for years to come. In Louisiana in the early months of the spill, according to the authors, more than 300 people, most of whom were cleanup workers, sought medical care for symptoms like headaches, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, cough, respiratory stress and chest pain. These symptoms are often seen in people exposed to hydrogen sulfide gas or hydrocarbons, both products of the spilled oil, “but it is difficult to distinguish toxic symptoms from common illnesses”.

Mary Craft of Coden Alabama speaks both about health effects as well as community impact.

Denise Rednour, of Gulf Port Mississippi also shared about health and community effects.

Paul Nelson is a lifelong fisherman and community organizer in Coden AL. He has heard many stories of health impacts and shares several examples of health challenges faced by those in his community.

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