Friday, July 02, 2010

Public Health Friday: July 2 BP Oil Spill Update

1. Fourth of July Weekend Oilcast.

Hurricane Alex is ashore and weakening, but the oil sheets it pushed toward Northwest Florida beaches will remain too close over the coming weekend. Continued cleaning is likely to be necessary. Local beaches will be open for business, technically. But mainly for spending your money, only.

Public health warnings (see below) apply. Shorter advice: Only the foolhardy or delusional would venture into Northwest Florida Gulf waters.

Local weather forecasters say the chance of some scattered summer showers will range from 30 to 40 percent through the weekend.

2. Biggest Oil Spill.

This week the BP oil spill made history as the largest oil spill ever on Earth in peacetime. USA TODAY calculates that about 164 million gallons will have entered the Gulf by Monday.
The largest previous peacetime spill occurred in the Gulf in 1979 when the Ixtoc I well off Mexico blew out and leaked for nine months. An estimated 140 million gallons leaked from that disaster.
The largest oil spill in war time occurred in 1991 during the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. USA claims 460 million gallons deliberately were spilled or burned. Others say of the total an estimated 6-8 million barrels (252 - 336 million gallons) of that oil was dumped into the waters of the Arabian Gulf.

Compare the BP oil spill to ten other infamous oil disasters.

3. Permanent Health Warnings.

Dr. John Lanza, director of Escambia County's public health department, finally grew a pair and metaphorically hung up on Pensacola Beach administrator Buck Lee . PNJ reporter Jamie Page writes today that Lanza has "decided to replace future health warnings with a new 'oil impact notice.'"
The new oil notice will mean posting signs on all Gulf beaches in Escambia County to serve as a continuous advisory that the beach has been impacted by oil, warning beachgoers to avoid walking in oily areas, wading or swimming.
It's Day No. 73 since the BP platform blew up, beginning the largest continuous peacetime oil disaster in world history, and Dr. Lanza at last has awakened to a reality the rest of the world saw two and a half months ago:
"As we continue to have greater impacts from the oil, it has become evident that we are going to have impacts from this for many weeks to come," health department spokeswoman Molly Payne-Hardin said, "whereas with health advisories, we had to put those up and then rescind them each time."

4. Navarre Beach Non-Warnings.

Next door in Santa Rosa County, however, county health department Director Sandy Park continues to live in high denial. The "nurse practitioner" who's acting head of the county's health department told reporter Paige that oil "impacts do not warrant" a health advisory for Navarre Beach.

Tarballs are washing up in Walton County to the east. "More tar and oily foam" washed up this week on Ft. Walton and Okaloosa County beaches, next door to the east. On the west -- well, that's us, now with permanent public health warnings. Right in between is Santa Rose County.

Look, there's nothing wrong with a nurse heading a public health department. Having a medical degree is no guarantee that you have a quick mind, as Dr. Lanza has proven.

But a nurse who ignores oil to the left, oil to the right, and oil right in her face covering "twenty percent" of Navarre Beach? That's someone who needs supervisory help from the Florida State Department of Health.

5. Florida's State Surgeon General - M.I.A..

So where is state surgeon general Dr. Ana M. Viamonte Ros, anyway? Better check your milk cartons. She seems to be missing.

And, why is the state's "Environmental Public Health Tracking" web site so out of date that it says nothing -- absolutely nothing -- about the public health dangers of the BP oil spill?

Just for fun, we went to the department's Contamination Locator Map and checked "petroleum" within two miles of the SRIA's address at 1 Via DeLuna, Pensacola Beach. All that shows up are some old storm run-off issues mostly along Pensacola Beach Boulevard that were identified in the late 1990's.

Try it by zip code 32561 and what you get is more antiquated data, including one for "Dippin' Dots," a Gulf Breeze business that closed its doors years ago. There's not a single data point -- not one word -- about sheets of oil polluting Pensacola Beach.

Right there may be the root of the public health confusion that has plagued Northwest Florida since the oil spill began. We have a state "surgeon general" in Tallahassee directing 20,000 state public health employees. The department's mission is "preparing the state for natural and man-made disasters, reducing health disparities, and leading Floridians to better health by example."

What has the state surgeon general been doing while all the "health disparities" arise in Northwest Florida as this 'man-made disaster' unfolds? Someone in Tallahassee has some explaining to do, and it had better be convincing before Election Day.

6. Unlimited Liability.

Yesterday, the House of Representatives approved the SPILL Act (HR 5503) by voice vote. The legislation reforms "inadequate and outdated maritime liability laws to ensure that the families of those killed or injured in the BP Oil Spill and other such tragedies are justly compensated for their losses." The full text is here.

The Act was opposed by the right-wing, hair-brained U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the cruise line industry, and Republicans who "argued that the bill was too broad, though they did not act to block its passage." In the Senate, a competing bill co-sponsored by Florida Senator Bill Nelson would raise the limit to $10 Billion, but it would not be retroactive.

Without much question, there are legal issues a-plenty in the House bill. Not the least of them is the constitutionality of a retroactive clause eliminating the ridiculously low liability cap enacted by Congress years ago. Let's hope dolphins and pelicans survive long enough to see those issues resolved.

7. Fireworks on Oil.

The weekly Gulf Breeze News reports the Pensacola Beach Chamber of Commerce is planning to blow things up on the 4th of July. But the organization no longer has a barge available -- it will be busy skimming -- so the fireworks will have to be shot off into the Gulf of Mexico from the fishing pier.

With all the oil sloshing around out there, what could wrong?

8. Blue Fin Tuna and New England.

Massachusetts fish and wildlife authorities are worried the BP oil spill will endanger blue fin tuna, a local staple for the New England economy and the palettes of gourmands. The Blue Fin Tuna --
spawn in the Gulf not far from the spill site and then make their way to New England.
"It could take a year before we know the impact on the tuna. And that is something we are keeping a very close eye on," says Paul Diodati, Massachusetts Director of Marine Fisheries.

9. Oily Food Chain.

Mobile TV station WALA reports that "scientists at the University of Southern Mississippi say oil has entered the Gulf food chain."

Droplets of oil have been found in baby blue crabs and fiddler crabs. A laboratory has been analyzing "larvae found throughout the Gulf, and they're finding oil trapped between the outer shell and the inner skin."
Scientists have found oil covered larvae from Louisiana to Florida.

"Because a host of species that inhabit the marsh eat and prey on blue crabs, it would be very easy for the oil to get into the food chain," [Harriet] Perry said.

Perry is Director of Fisheries and Research at the University of Southern Mississippi Gulf Coast Research Lab.

We're looking forward to Governor Haley Barbour reassuring everyone Mississippi crabmeat is safe to eat by downing a couple of dozen crabs infected with oil.


Anonymous said...

When Fl. established the erosion control line it took ownership of pensacola beach and all local laws were preempted to the state. The SRIA and county commissioners have no say.

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