Between the Lines Q&A

A weekly column featuring progressive viewpoints
on national and international issues
under-reported in mainstream media
for release July 7, 2010

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Gulf Region's Poor Communities
Bring Health Concerns About
BP Oil Spill to EPA


 RealAudio  MP3

Interview with LaTosha Brown,
executive director of the group
Gulf Coast Fund for
Community Renewal and Ecological Health,
conducted by Melinda Tuhus


bp

As the BP oil leak continues to pour oil into the Gulf of Mexico more than 75 days after the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, about 20 environmentalists and local community leaders met Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson in New Orleans on July 2 to express their concerns. One of them was LaTosha Brown, executive director of the Gulf Coast Fund for Community Renewal and Ecological Health, which provides grants to grassroots groups in the region to promote local organizing and empowerment.

The meeting was one of several that have taken place with top EPA officials since the spill, which Brown said was a far cry from the dismissive treatment residents received from the Bush administration after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Between The Lines' Melinda Tuhus, who made four trips to the Gulf region after Katrina -- and interviewed some of the Gulf Fund's grantees -- spoke with Brown after her meeting with EPA administrator Jackson. She said the group's members listed three top concerns: the health effects of the oil dispersants used to break up the oil spill; safe disposal of the oil collected on beaches and oil-absorbent booms - and questions about which federal agency is holding British Petroleum accountable for oil spill damages and protecting residents' health.


LATOSHA BROWN: Many of the environmental and community leaders in the room were very concerned about several things, one being the use of dispersants and the health impacts -- long-term and short-term - on the use of dispersants, because it breaks up the oil, but it gets into the water column, and people are really concerned about what kind of impact it has on the fish and other marine life, but also what kind of impact it would have on people and the environment and the water quality, so that was a major issue. I know this past week, EPA actually came out with the results of its preliminary testing, but it tested the impact of the dispersants on silverfish and shrimp and not in the same kind of mixture of crude oil, salt water and the marine life in the concoction that we find in the waters right now, so there's a major, major concern about the usage of Corexit and the impact it has on the water quality and the marine life.

BETWEEN THE LINES: So, I believe those tests showed that when conducted in isolation, Corexit was non-toxic, but your point is that they didn't test the dispersant within the stew that now exists in the Gulf...

LATOSHA BROWN: And because these were preliminary tests, making sure that as the EPA continues to test, that the information is readily available and that scientists and environmentalists are informed immediately or they have access to the health impacts of the dispersants.

A second major concern was the disposal of the waste, particularly of the oil-absorbent booms, so what happens to the booms that are being used and what we found out is that those booms are actually being taken to landfills. But many of the environmentalists, particularly that do environmental justice work, are very concerned that some of the oil booms will end up in landfills of fenceline communities that are already vulnerable, and most of them are communities of color -- low-income communities of color that have been not only taken advantage of, but have been the most vulnerable, so now you're adding another potentially very toxic element to these fenceline communities where in many of these areas, the toxicity is so bad that it's known as Cancer Alley.

BETWEEN THE LINES: LaTosha Brown, let me stop you there for a minute, because I've been to St. Bernard Parish just east of New Orleans and I've seen those fenceline communities butted up against huge petrochemical operations, but please for our listeners explain that term a little more.

LATOSHA BROWN: Fenceline communities are historical communities. Usually, they're working class communities throughout the region, but there are huge industrial -- particularly in the petrochemical industry -- that are right in their backyard. There's a longstanding fight -- particularly in the (environmental justice) movement -- to hold these petrochemical companies accountable, and that many of these companies taking advantage of these are working class communities of color, and they exploit the situation in terms of purposely locating in areas where the politics may or may not be as strong as in other communities that are far more resourced.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Did the environmentalists and community leaders at the meeting in early July with EPA administrator Lisa Jackson mention any other top concerns?

LATOSHA BROWN: Yeah, the third concern is: Who is enforcing BP? Many of the communities felt that the EPA's role is to be the Environmental Protection Agency -- to live up to its name in terms of making sure that it protects the interest of communities from environmental hazardous circumstances and incidents. And there was a lot of concern that it appears that BP is operating in many ways like a super-state, and that instead of the government agencies holding BP accountable, BP is operating in a way that they're basically informing the government and us of what it is they plan or intend to do. So there's a lot of concern about the enforcement issue in terms of who is holding BP accountable. What we were informed by EPA is that the Incident Command Center is where the buck stops, that the Incident Command Center is the agency that is overseeing this process, but there was a lot of concern, particularly from environmental groups, that there's a need to see more enforcement of BP and a clear line that our environmental and ecological and health issues are being protected and BP is being held accountable.

Contact the Gulf Coast Fund for Community Renewal and Ecological Health New York office at (212) 812-4361 or visit their website at www.gulfcoastfund.org


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Melinda Tuhus is a producer of Between The Lines, which can be heard on more than 50 radio stations and in RealAudio and MP3 on our website at http://www.btlonline.org. This interview excerpt was featured on the award-winning, syndicated weekly radio newsmagazine, Between The Lines for the week ending July 16, 2010. This Between The Lines Q&A was compiled by Melinda Tuhus and Anna Manzo.

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