October 0 2010 - A Public Health Forum on the Gulf Coast featuring Dr. Riki Ott in Orange Beach, Alabama. Copyright Glynn Wilson, The Locust Fork News-Journal, LocustFork.Net.
ORANGE BEACH, Ala. — While the tourists were wandering around looking at the arts and crafts, listening to the music and munching on an array of grub Saturday at the National Shrimp Festival in Gulf Shores, another group of folks gathered at a church in Orange Beach to discuss what is apparently considered a taboo subject along the coast: the human health effects from the BP oil disaster.
The featured speaker was Dr. Riki Ott of Alaska, a recognized expert in chemical illnesses who has devoted her life to the cause since the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound in 1989.
While everyone from local town officials to the British Petroleum corporation and its private contractors to the Coast Guard and even the Obama administration at the top blocked efforts for scientists to tell the public just how bad the Gulf oil disaster could be — and the mainstream, corporate media has largely ignored the human health effects story — Dr. Ott says she now has information that the U.S. Navy knew about the problems and even suspended routine training exercises in the Gulf.
“We’re getting contradictory information, which is incredibly annoying,” Dr. Ott said. “The public face says one thing, and behind the scenes there’s an entire other thing going on.”
So she’s helping to launch a Gulf-wide, community-based health survey to assess the health problems with short-term diagnosis and treatment and a long-term monitoring program, along with a public information campaign to get the word out to people.
Since coming to the Gulf Coast back in May, she has gathered information from Terribone Parish, Louisiana to the east of Apalachicola, Florida on what symptoms people are experiencing. They range from upper respiratory problems to headaches, dizziness, sore throat, hoarseness, ear and nose bleeds and skin rashes to upset stomach. The routes of exposure are inhalation and skin contact.
“Those are exactly the symptoms associated with crude oil. We were also told after the Exxon Valdez spill, ‘oh, don’t worry. The volatile organic compounds are all going to evaporate’,” she said. “No!”
There are some sectors of the population more at risk than others, Dr. Ott said. In studying toxicology, you learn that “dose plus the host makes the poison,” she said. So young children who breath more of the polluted mist coming off the Gulf faster than an adult and weigh less are more susceptible. Just as in child medicine the dose is different, if a child breaths in as much as an adult they will get sicker, faster. Pregnant women, the elderly and those with immune system and other health problems are also more at risk.
“These symptoms don’t seem to be going away,” she said, so medical doctors with no training in chemical illnesses typically diagnose food poisoning, heat stroke, staff infections and even scabies, even though infections and scabies are contagious, and the BP crud and related maladies are not. Scabies and staff infections can be passed from person to another, in other words, but there is no evidence for that with the oil and chemical related Gulf illnesses.
Dr. Ott has now talked to workers who were directly exposed to oil in the cleanup effort who have been prescribed antibiotics, some on their third or fourth round, she said, “and it is not clearing up.”
“Our bodies only have so many ways to say we’re sick. So cold and flu-like symptoms, headaches, these are all common things,” she said. “But they could indicate an uncommon causation, a chemical illness.”
She said people need to seek medical help, but they may have to educate their doctors about chemical illnesses since diagnoses is not an easy thing.
“If everybody turned purple because they were chemically exposed, then it would be easy to diagnose,” she said. “But it’s not like that.”
She has talked to pharmacists at CVS, Walgreens and even Winn Dixie pharmacies who say they are seeing an increase in these symptoms along the entire Gulf Coast. Some of the symptoms are acute, meaning they happen fast, and some are more chronic, meaning they develop over the long-term.
If people are misdiagnosed, as they were in Alaska after Valdez, Dr. Ott said, serious long-term problems can develop.
“After Valdez people were told they had a cold or the flu, and told to take Tylenol, to the point where the whole West Coast ran out of Tylenol. I’m still dealing with people who thought they had the Exxon Valdez Crud in 1989,” she said, but it’s “still going on 20 years later? Isn’t this a little long for a cold or the flu?”
The problem is, she said, that “the longer you leave this stuff in your body, the more havoc it can wreak.”
People along the coast who suffer any of these symptoms need to seek out the appropriate medical care and to get it properly treated, she said, which would include a physical detox program. People should also consider psychological treatment, since stress can worsen the symptoms.
On the health study, Dr. Ott said, it is important for the public to be involved as a “Gulf Coast community.”
“Let’s do it as a people, and not leave it all up to the federal government, because (based on their record of covering up the problems),” she said, “that is a really bad idea.”
The public should get involved by reporting any health symptoms to local, state and federal health agencies, and fill out the community-based health survey soon to be online at RikiOtt.com. People should also call the Deepwater Horizon Incident Joint Information Center and report health symptoms or dead or stressed wildlife at 713.323.1670.
More from Riki Ott: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/riki-ott/