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Heroic Activists in Louisiana Fight Back Against Corporate Greed

A small group of activists in the Gulf are pushing back against predators who try to profit from disasters.

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Ultimately, the government culture of low-balling translated into repeated episodes of underestimating the impact of the spill and its effects on the health of residents of the Gulf. The drama rapidly unveiled the confluence of corporate interests and government, as the Obama administration was shown to have prevented efforts by scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to report the worst-case spill estimates. Initial government reports stated that oil was leaking at a rate of 1,000 barrels per day, when the actual rate was proven to be about 60,000 barrels per day. The motivation in fudging the figures, aside from understating the impact of oil extraction, was to negate claims of medical harm. Meanwhile, the company began using a toxic dispersant, Corexit, to cloak the extent of the spill, while adding an additional poison into the already battered ecosystem. This is why the inclusion of a health remedy in the new claims process is so vital.

A Movement for Justice

The recognition of these health impacts comes on the heels of nearly two years of advocacy by committed Gulf activists, most of which have been personally impacted by the disaster. Given the diffuse population of the Gulf region and its historically conservative nature, the movement for justice is not particularly big. Miami-based Gulf advocate Yvonne Gougelet told me, “It’s the biggest man-made disaster with the smallest number of people fighting for justice.”

One woman who has traveled the country sharing the story of the Gulf is Kindra Arnesen, a Plaquemines Parish resident who spoke at the February 29 Occupy rally. She typically brings visual aids to demonstrate the ongoing effects of the spill: “In my hand, I am holding a photograph taken five weeks ago off of Breton Isle of a (dead) baby humpback whale. This is five weeks ago....The sea life has been washing up on the northern Gulf for over a year now in record numbers.” She provided a sampling of some of the human afflictions: “This is a picture of a 56-year-old woman’s eye. She continues to get blisters on her eye, but she’s not the only one....This is a seven-year-old little boy who, over the last six to eight months, his hair has started to fall off of his head in bald spots. Over the last few months, he started having nosebleeds.”

John Gooding is another Gulf activist who has been personally stricken by the toxicity of his environment. At the Leap Day rally, he strongly encouraged people to seek out a detoxification program if they showed symptoms. He also emphasized that there is only a certain window of time to address the issue: “Don’t wait. Get it done before it’s too late. Once it becomes neurological damage, such as my case, it’s all over with. I was told just yesterday: I will not get better. Seventy percent of your brain is fat, and Corexit eats oils and fats. Once it’s in your brain it’s all over with. I have grand mal seizures, petit mal life is a living hell. You do not want to live my life.”

As BP and the federal government have together been unwilling to admit the medical impacts of the disaster, it has been up to activists and non-profits to provide the necessary care. The Louisiana Environmental Action Network has collaborated with the Gulf Coast Detox Project to help afflicted residents purge their systems of toxins. One of the first people to undergo the program was Jory Danos, who says he lost 50 lbs and was practically near death before commencing the program. He described the methodology as involving long periods in a sauna where one literally sweats the toxins out of the body. He now has regained his vitality, and has become an advocate for the procedure.

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