Saturday, July 03, 2010

Here's to Your Health: July 4 Weekend BP Oil Spill Update

"Y'all come on down, now, and have a good time! We've got the funniest county pols and doctors in the land."
1. Oil cast

Erin Kourkounis of the Pensacola News Journal grabs the prize for Best Headline of the Month (see above). And we're only three days into July!
The forecast from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration indicates that easterly winds could mean continued oil impacts on area beaches through Sunday.

These winds, along with a 40 percent to 60 percent chance of rain and 3- to 5-foot seas may hamper some oil recovery efforts both onshore and offshore throughout the weekend, according to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

Bob West, Pensacola Beach public safety director, predicts red flags will fly on Pensacola Beach today and Sunday due to rough surf and rip currents. headlines its weekend advisory (click on graphic, above) by telling us "The beaches are open and ready for business!"

Indeed they are open. County officials have worked hard to be sure no one in the county or state health department, state EPA, or Island Authority will close them no matter how much oil washes onto the beaches. As the Associated Press reports, "Pensacola Beach is doing its best to make its sands presentable."

Whether the beaches really are safe, well, that's another matter.

2. Escambia Beaches.

News photographer Katie King at the PNJ has a gallery of stunning photographs showing how awful Pensacola Beach looked yesterday. (Click the photo, left, to see the entire gallery.)

Louis Cooper reported earlier this week that "Aerial reconnaissance flights observed streamers of mousse and sliver sheen hovering just offshoreStreamers of mousse and sliver sheen hovering just offshore near Johnson Beach, Fort Pickens and Pensacola Beach." Conditions are not likely to improve over the weekend.

The same Associated Press dispatch mentioned above, says:
About 1,300 BP employees and county crews are working overnight to clean whatever oil washes up during high tide. By most mornings, the tourist sections are largely clean, with only orange and brown stains in the sand left behind.
A for effort, but brisk winds and a strong current continue from the southeast this morning, and they likely will wash more of the oil Cooper saw on shore to foul beaches throughout the weekend.

3. Navarre Beach.

On Navarre Beach in neighboring Santa Rosa County, "plate-size" tarballs were "all over the beach" and oil booms were "placed at Santa Rosa's inland waterways... due to the threat of oil forecast by trajectory maps over the next several days." The boom-blocked canals and waterways include "Zamarra Canal, Gilmore Bayou, Woodland Bayou, Villa Venyce, Santa Rosa Shores, Hoffman Bayou and Polynesian Isle."

On the same day, astoundingly, Santa Rosa County health director Sandy Park declined to issue a health warning for county beaches.

4. Ft. Walton Beaches.

The Northwest Daily News -- in ways that echo its pathetic predecessor publication, the Playground Daily News -- offers the reading public very few facts about the extent of oil pollution on Okaloosa Island in Ft. Walton Beach. The best we could find is Dusty Rickett's vague dispatch claiming, "Local beaches remained relatively free of tar balls and oil on Friday."

When we learn what 'relatively' means to Ricketts, we'll get right back to you.

In Destin the big news is about the deadly crash of a W.W. II stunt plane just offshore, in which two Niceville men died. The bodies have not yet been recovered.

As for oil, earlier in the week The Destin Log reported that Hurricane Alex was causing "multiple tarballs" as large as baseballs to 'dot the surfline' all along local beaches. An oil sheen estimated to be as much as two miles long was seen "a quarter to a half mile outside Destin Pass" and other smaller ones at the mid-bay bridge and in Niceville.

5. Walton County Beaches.

In Walton County, the same Northwest Daily News more candidly reports:
Oil continued to wash up Thursday at many points along the Walton County shore, from Miramar Beach to Rosemary Beach, according to State Emergency Response Team reports. Heavy tar balls hit Grayton Beach, while tar mats were reported farther east.
There too, however, county health officials have lifted all health advisories, according to the Walton Sun. Indeed, the South Walton "Tourist Development Council" claims "there are no health advisories at this time."

6. The Rhetoric of Health Warnings, Advisories, and Notices.

All across the Florida panhandle, Friday saw county health department directors rescinding previous "health warnings." Many now are substituting a generic "health advisory" or "oil impact notice." (Click on graphic, left, to read.)

The wording differences are subtle, but the purpose is obvious. By removing the word "warning" tourist promotion organizations can claim "no health warnings" have been issued for their beaches. (Think, "It depends on what the meaning of the word is is.")

Except that some, like the Walton County Tourist Development Council, haven't received the memo yet. They're screwing things up by claiming, "There are no health advisories at this time."

No, no, tourist promoters! You're supposed to say, "no health warnings." That's the whole point of this rhetorical health department strategy. The hope is that ''advisory" or 'impact notice' is less attention-getting and more ambiguous than a "warning." It's supposed to look more like a humdrum announcement than a compelling admonition.

How many times have you seen a dog owner post a "Canine Impact Notice" instead of one reading, "Warning - Dangerous Dog"?

7. Who's Behind the Curtain?

Initially, we were fooled, too, into supposing that Escambia County's health director, Dr. John Lanza, finally had found the cajones to say something other than what Buck Lee scripted for him. Now, so it looks to us, there is a coordinated effort underway to find a way to minimize the health risks of oil polluted waters while casting blame for its consequences on someone else.

From the sudden appearance of permanent "oil impact notices" all over the panhandle, we're guessing it's orchestrated out of Tallahassee by the state Department of Health or Florida's Department of Environmental Protection. County officials are only too happy for the help.

Dr. Lanza obviously feels conflicted by the warring interests of business and human health. Out of one side of his mouth, as Doug Hanks reports for the Miami Herald, Lanza says, "We are not advising that anyone go in the water." Out of the other side, he articulates "a more permissive view of the notice in his comments to reporters, urging beachgoers to avoid the water only if they could see oil in the water or felt an oiliness on their skin while swimming."

It is, as the subhead of Jamie Page's article in today's PNJ puts it, how the county "stalls on keeping swimmers from the water." ["Close Beach? County Won't take the Risk Yet"]

In this land of Tea Party sympathizers, where the demand so often is heard for the federal government to keep its hands off purely local concerns like national health insurance reform, county commissioners like the criminally-indicted Gene Valentino are petulantly stamping their feet in front of the cameras to complain that they can't close their own beaches until the feds come up with health standards for this unprecedented oil pollution event.

It's a hilarious show not to be missed, and a worthy site for tourists to see all by itself. Y'all come on down, now, and have a good time! We've got the funniest county pols and doctors in the land.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Finally a source in Florida that is telling the truth. Thank you Pensacola Blog - nice work and keep the truth coming.