Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Wednesday, June 23; The Millbrook Independent

BP oil begins washing up on Florida shores

By Scott Maier 
Edited by Olesia Plokhii

for The Millbrook Independent

PENSACOLA—The westernmost part of Florida's panhandle had, until last week, not seen the effects of British Petroleum's April oil spill, the worst in U.S. history. But on June 11, Pensacola, the region's largest city, got its first foul taste.

Touristy Perdido key, a long, sandy island that stretches for miles along the coastline into Alabama, also showed signs of contamination.

BP's best efforts to stop the gushing well have, as of yet, been unsuccessful. Perhaps of more concern to many Gulf Coast residents, though, is how to keep the oil off the shore—and what long-term health affects the spill may reveal. 

The first major land to begin turning color as a result of oil was a stretch of beach 100 yards long at the end of Perdido key in West Pensacola, which prompted a recent 200-strong community rally and protest against BP. Angry community members who turned out demanded answers.

Among them was Darla Klein, whose daughter was recently fired from her part time job at the marina.

"My daughter was working down at Brown's dock for a fisherman, and now the owner is fishing in Texas and sending everything up here to his distribution center in Pensacola for shipping, so she's out of a job," Klein said. "And that's off the books too."

"How's she going to get that claim in to BP?" 

Tulane Law Professor and Director of the University's Environmental Law Clinic, Adam Babich, said claimants don't necessarily need legal working papers in order to be awarded damages by a BP panel or any U.S. court.  

That isn't to say it would be easy.

Babich said serious conditions resulting from oil-exposure, like cancers and birth defects, may be real—but they'll also be real difficult to link to the spill.

"A lot of people get cancer, and there are a lot of potential causes of cancer," he said. "Environmental contamination is certainly one of them, [but] trying to prove causation can be tricky."

And probably long.

As the sludge nears the coastline, while local concerns reach new heights of anxiety, residents receive few answers in return.  

Scott Maier is a Boston-based freelance journalist and photographer reporting on the oil spill for The Millbrook Independent.

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