By Mickey Spencer
On June 29, 2010 I was privileged to be given the opportunity to travel to Navarre, Florida with Patricia Sullivan (candidate for 8th US Congressional District Representative), Jason Hoyt (broadly recognized Tea Party movement leader and host of Tea Party Patriots Live radio show), and Allen Wilson (videographer). Patricia felt led to learn more about the oil spill problem beyond what the government, BP, and the media are filtering for us and she extended the invitation to us to join her on this trip so we could each tell the story from our own unique perspectives. I am grateful to her for this opportunity.
While each of us had our own particular goals with the trip, I think they were mainly twofold: 1) See the actual damage being caused and 2) talk to the people who live and work there about their perspectives on what’s happening (and what’s not happening!). An unplanned positive from this trip was that we were able to communicate to the people with whom we spoke that they’re not alone… that there are indeed people not living in their area who do indeed care greatly about what’s happening there. Yes, I’m sure we touched a few lives there by showing that we care, but that pales in comparison to how much the people there touched our lives.
We came to the general consensus that the people there all seemed to have a thousand mile stare in their eyes… as if they’re searching for answers and yet feeling that their search is in vain. They have learned though that what their government officials (local, state, AND federal) have been telling them have been lies. They’ve learned that what BP officials have been telling them have been lies as well. They’ve learned they can’t trust what the media is telling them either. They’re frustrated when they speak with friends and relatives in other parts of the nation and world that this isn’t being perceived as that big of a problem (which is how it’s being reported in the media). Even if someone from the government, BP, or the media came to them tomorrow and finally told the truth they have lost so much confidence that they would naturally assume that to be a lie as well. They genuinely feel they’re all alone and the only ones who know what they’re going through or care about it are other coastal residents. And even some of them are in denial about the problem or are blindly believing what their government, BP, and the media are telling them.
We visited the beach areas from Navarre Beach to Pensacola. The only real difference was the number of tar balls on the beach and the number of BP subcontractors working at removing the tar balls as well as the size of the equipment they were using.
In Navarre Beach, we spoke with a surfer who, based upon the fact the government had declared the beach safe and the absence of many tar balls on the beach, had decided along with some friends of his that it was safe to surf.
We ventured a little over a mile west of there to another location on the beach and got there just as some BP subcontractors had arrived to set up what looked like picnic areas so they could begin gathering up tar balls. We learned that these cleanup crews typically are allowed to work only about 15 minutes of every hour (being paid hourly of course) so as not to exhaust them in the typical beach hot sun. They were allowed to work more than 15 minutes the day we were there due to it being an overcast day with occasional drizzle… spinoff from Hurricane Alex.
The BP subcontractors have a pretty rigid procedure list that they follow when they arrive. First they lay out huge sheets of thick plastic on clean areas of the beach. On that they place their drinks, their coolers, their plastic garbage bags, their extra sets of rubber gloves and rubber boots (all disposable of course), etc. You will NEVER see one of the BP subcontractors walking on the beach without the rubber boots and rubber gloves on them. You also won’t see them venturing actually into the surf. They are there solely to clean the tar balls off the surface of the beach… clearly only for cosmetic reasons!
Also while we were there we saw an environmental engineer from their county show up wearing rubber waders that extended up to his armpits and also covered his hand and arms. He went into the shallow surf to take water samples ostensibly to see if the water was safe. However, we learned that every sample he takes requires TEN DAYS before the county commissioners will act on the results of those findings. TEN DAYS!!!
During the whole time the BP subcontractors were out there on the beach with their rubber boots and rubber gloves and the environmental engineer was out there in a virtual HazMat suit, there were still visitors to the beach going into and out of the water without a care in the world because the county commission had determined the water was safe TEN DAYS ago. And some of these visitors to the beach who were playing in the surf were little children… with their parents there approving of it because the government (and the tourist council) was communicating to everyone that the water is fine!
Keep in mind this was 4 days before the 4th of July weekend when we visited. Any other year the road running along the beach would have been a virtual parking lot with thousands and thousands of people. Traffic was not a problem on the day we went. The only parking lot with more than 5 cars in it (aside from vehicles toting BP subcontractors) was the one in Pensacola. And even that parking lot (which looked to be capable of holding thousands of cars had maybe 2 or 3 dozen cars in it. What it did have a lot of were dump trucks to carry away the polluted sand they’d carry away. What it also had were TV news trucks from Fox, NBS, and ABC from as far away as Tampa. And on the beach itself, were dozens and dozens and dozens of BP subcontractors (often relaxing under their temporary shelters on the beach) and more than a dozen earthmovers (some might call them bulldozers) scooping up the trash bags filled with tar balls that were being scooped up.
And in the midst of all that you’d see little children and adults playing on the beach and in the water, totally oblivious to the heavy equipment and all the protective clothing on the BP subcontractors. We took a handful of photos and video of the contrast between the heavy equipment filled with tar balls and the little children pulling their little beach toys all in the same photos. If you weren’t there to witness it with your own eyes, you’d swear the images had been Photoshopped. I can assure you no mixing of images took place. It was sickening to see it in person.
We learned that BP (and the government) steadfastly refuses to allow volunteers to do any cleanup effort on the beaches at all claiming there’s a liability issue and they need to make sure their subcontractors have taken classes in how to handle hazardous materials and have signed waivers holding BP and the government blameless. And yet, those same governments portray to beach visitors that the beach and the surf is just fine and to be sure to come on down and spend your tourist dollars there.
We met one incredible gentleman on the beach who told us he’d been living there since 1946. He told us we could call him Big Daddy. Big Daddy had a lifetime of experiences to tell about, but more importantly, Big Daddy knew a lie when he heard one. Big Daddy knew quite a lot about what was really going on with the oil spill and the efforts on the part of the government, BP, and the media to cover it all up. You could almost see the tears wanting to come out as Big Daddy told his story, but I think Big Daddy had already shed all the tears he could spare. That poor man’s heart was broken and continuing to break a little more daily as this problem continues to get worse and the lies to cover it all up get bigger.
Patricia spent quite a lot of time talking privately with Big Daddy. The impact that each of them had on the other was immeasurable. I think each of them will continue for a long time gaining a little more understanding of how much each of them had affected the other with their talk that afternoon.
We learned that evening that Debbie Gunnoe was going to be hosting a startup meeting of concerned residents to discuss what they could do about all this, gauge their interest, and see how many would be willing to commit to helping. We already owed a great debt of gratitude to Debbie for providing us with a place to stay Tuesday night. And we were more than happy to attend her meeting as observers and to help out with our advice along the way. Patricia, Jason, Allen and I each bring something to the table in putting together groups of people, writing letters, leading those groups of people, and defining goals. In addition to all that, Allen is an absolutely wiz with video and how to make it tell a message to further your cause.
Additionally, we learned from one lady at the meeting in particular (and there are many more stories just like this one!) about some of the other toxins in the water. Benzene is apparently one of the key ingredients in the dispersants that BP is adding to the oil at the point of the leak. We’ve all been assured that the use of the dispersants is totally safe. However, Benzene is a known carcinogen (proven to directly cause cancer). This nice lady and her family had gone to the beach a very few weeks ago after the spill. The county commissioners had declared the beaches to be safe. So she, her husband, and her children had gone in the surf to play. Her husband emerged from the water with tar balls stuck to his body and to his swim suit. She immediately came out of the water with the same results. They immediately got their children out of the water, but it was too late. Apparently some of the Benzene –infested water had gotten into their system resulting in her children experiencing several days of diarrhea. Their pediatrician diagnosed it as Benzene poisoning. Of course, there’s no telling what long term effects her children will experience as a result of that “harmless, fun day at the beach at the urging of our tourist bureaus.”
Further, there’s no telling what all of us will be experiencing for days, weeks, months, and years to come as a result of this calamity either.
Another thing we learned is that not only does water evaporate. That’s where we get rain. Additionally, oil evaporates as well. And so does Benzene. And when they evaporate along with the water, that goes up into the clouds and eventually comes down as rain. We learned while we were there that reports of oil rain in the Tampa area are already coming in. When you pour oil on vegetation, the vegetation dies. I’ve played on golf courses before where one of their pieces of equipment was inadvertently leaking oil with the end result being that everywhere the oil had leaked, the grass had died. Imagine that happening everywhere it rains where the moisture in the clouds that produced the rain originated from areas polluted by this Gulf oil spill.
And of course, vegetation takes in carbon dioxide and gives off oxygen. Humans and animals take in oxygen and give off carbon dioxide. Imagine what happens when you remove the vegetation from that equation! You’ll begin to see world-wide carbon dioxide levels going up and oxygen levels going down.
The people there are hurting. They all want to solve the problem, but they’re not being allowed to help. The answers they’re being provided are total oxymorons. On the one hand, they’re being told that coming into contact with the tar balls and other toxic substances as a result of the spill represents to high of a hazard for them to be allowed to help. And on the other hand, they and all of the world are being told the beaches and the surf are fine and everyone should come on down to enjoy themselves with a week (or more) at the beach. Those two statements can’t possibly both be true!
I want to do so much more to help the Gulf coastal residents (not just Big Daddy and Debbie, but all of them… including the ones we didn’t get to meet). But for now, the biggest help I can be is communicating to you all the message of what I saw with my own eyes and heard with my own ears.
Perhaps you can do something to help also… even if it’s just becoming informed about the problem and passing along the message yourself. If you know people who live along the Gulf, let them know you care about what’s happening. Contact your elected officials and secure commitments from them to do something as well. Hold our elected officials accountable!
We’ve assisted them by putting together a YouTube channel to help further their efforts: http://www.youtube.com/user/FLOILCAP
Patricia Sullivan has written an article from her perspective on what we witnessed: http://patriciasullivanforcongress.com/category/blog/
Please watch the video stories and read the accounts!