New Iberia, Louisiana – Wilma Subra wears many hats: Community activist. Grandmother of six. MacArthur Genius. Wife of forty years. Perhaps most importantly she is a trained chemist. And when things go bad in southern Louisiana – or others states, for that matter; she recently testified in a dubious water case in my neighborhood in New York – she gets called to weigh in subjectively on what exactly is wrong with the air, ground or water.
Which means, in Louisiana, she stays very busy.
And when people as far from the oil spill as New Orleans started complaining about feeling sick and blaming the spill – headaches, irritated eyes, nose, throat and lungs, nauseous, dizzy – Wilma started comparing and collecting atmospheric data. What she’s finding is that the spill isn’t just putting the ocean and marine life at risk, but the very air that southern Louisianans breathe. For the rest of my dispatch from New Iberia, see www.takepart.com.
Grand Isle, Louisiana – A long thin two-lane highway connects central Louisiana with the Gulf. The channels that paralleling the hundred mile drive are filled with fishing boats parked in single file, shrimpers mostly. On my way to the road’s end I stop and visit with men polishing boats and repairing gear. News over the weekend from Terrebone Parish that a first fishermen had returned with oil-tainted shrimp had dampened an already dark mood.
But even before the oil spill these fishermen were growing disillusioned by their chosen profession. “Actually it’s almost not like I chose this life,” John “Winnie” Winsted tells me, sitting in the back of his shrimp boat thirty miles north of the big oil town of Port Fourchon. “I’ve been doing it since I was a teenager. Now, it’s in my blood.”
Pre-spill the fishermen had a handful of complaints: High fuel prices. A dead zone that grows in the Gulf each spring/summer thanks to fertilizers washed down from the north, forcing them to go further out to sea thus costing more to operate. Trade policies which they see as favoring foreign fishermen, allowing foreign companies to “dump” seafood on the U.S. market at below production costs, mostly from Thailand, Indonesia, Ecuador, China, Vietnam, Myanmar and India.
But fishing has never been an easy way to make a living, even without several million gallons of oil mucking up the fishery and a growing public perception that all fish from the Gulf are now polluted. Despite improved technology like sonar and GPS which make finding fish much easier, the markets just get tighter and tighter, and the fish fewer and fewer. For the rest of my dispatch, see takepart.com.
Barataria, Louisiana – It is the perfect blue-sky, humidity-less spring day in bayou country that makes you feel like everything should be all right in the world.
The intercoastal waterway leading to the Gulf of Mexico is calm, the canals that host fishing boats behind each neat suburban home reflect the midday sun and a cool breeze washes away extraneous sounds and smells.
But despite the bucolic day fisherman Mike Roberts is angry. “Osama bin Laden couldn’t have done a better job of destroying a part of the American economy. This oil spill? It’s like the ultimate act of terrorism. And these guys …” – BP and Transocean executives, and the federal agency that was supposed to police them but appears to have been very cozy with the oil industry (Mineral Management Service) – “should be treated like terrorists.”
As we talk, a leftover shrimp lasagna heating in the oven, we watch soundless oil company heads testifying before Congress on headline news. Mike, and his wife Tracy Kuhns, glimpse at the television as we talk. Their house, a pair of fishing boats tied up on the canal just feet from the backdoor, is a hub this morning for neighbors, friends and relatives looking for information. When this fishing community went to bed last night they thought they were going to be able to shrimp today in the fresh waters of the bayou. But they woke to learn that all fishing along the coast had been shut down. For my full report see takepart.com.
On Sunday, in rough seas fifty miles off the coast of Louisiana, robotic submarines were sent down a mile down below the Gulf’s stormy surface to try and cap the sunken oil well, which is leaking crude at a minimum rate of 1,000 barrels a day, or 42,000 gallons a day. (By comparison, the Exxon Valdez spill was 11 million gallons.) Why the rig exploded last Tuesday has not been confirmed; it’s also unspoken what happened to the 700,000 gallons of diesel fuel on board the 400-foot-by-300-foot rig.
What was initially dismissed (by company officials) as an easy-to-clean-up slick has now spread a sheen covering twenty miles by twenty miles and dependent on wind and currents could be headed for the U.S. coastline from Louisiana to Florida. Efforts to clean up the oil slick, using booms and vacuums, were stopped on Sunday due to high winds, rains and 8-to-10-foot seas. For my full report, see The Current at TakePart.com.