Although it happened four years ago, the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is continuing to have dangerous effects on the environment. The spill, which resulted in a media frenzy, occurred when methane gas and oil surged up through the drill and exploded onto the surface. There were multiple accounts of what had happened, blaming safety checks that should have stopped this from occurring, as well as faulty equipment.
However, regardless of the cause, one thing is for certain: it’s still inflicting devastating repercussions on the American coastline.
Tar balls, known officially as ‘surface residue balls,’ began washing up on the coastlines from Florida to Texas not long after the spill. Created from ocean currents mixing the petroleum into a solid blob of waste, they have become a major health hazard — not just because they carry with them the composition of crude oil, but because they are a magnet for bacteria.
A study of tar balls back in 2011 led one researcher, Dr. Cova Arias, to discover these globules of ocean waste and petrol were teaming with thousands of cultures of Vibrio Vulnificus, known commonly as flesh-eating bacteria.
After the spill, levels of flesh-eating bacteria were higher in the water and in shellfish (such as oysters). In the tar balls, though, it’s said the concentration levels are 100 times higher. Accidentally stepping on one while having an abrasion on your foot could put your life in danger.
A jump in cases of Vibrio on the coastline was noted after the spill. It’s gotten so worrisome that this year, officials warned that people with compromised immune systems are in danger even just by entering the water.
Vibrio is an opportunistic bacteria that needs the right environment to transfer to humans. A cut or small abrasion gives it a pathway to enter, as can a weak immune system. It moves fast, causing redness and blisters while destroying the tissue and infecting the blood stream.
One fisherman, who contracted it by simply standing in the water, was dead 48 hours after the onset of symptoms. Infectious disease specialists along the coast have warned that it can be fatal in 40-50% of those infected.
They compared the findings with those in Nigeria. The Niger Delta, which pumps out some 2.5 million barrels of crude oil per day, has been subject to little government oversight and home to some terrible oil disasters, which we rarely hear about. One study noted that there were more than 7,000 oil spill incidents in a 50 year period. The average yearly oil spill is around 240,000 barrels.
The Niger Delta was once a pristine tropical jungle where humans and animals thrived, but now the quality of life there has taken a substantial hit due to all the oil-related environmental impacts. Not only have issues such as skin lesions, headaches, diarrhea, seizures, violent nausea and fatigue become common, but acute cases of oil poisoning have caused kidney failure and hepatoxicity.
Food availability also suffered a blow, with spills coinciding with a 60% reduction in crops, creating widespread malnutrition. As we all know, malnutrition causes weakened immune systems, especially in children. This combination of food scarcity and a dangerous environment leaves them even more at risk to the oil being dumped into the waters around them.
Over in the USA, those that worked on cleanup efforts during the BP oil spill suffered very similar symptoms as those in Nigeria’s River States.
A civil and governmental settlement provided funds to help clean up the coastline and bring healthcare to those hurt by the spill. However, a pollution report filed just last month showed that one person, walking a very small section of Florida’s beach, was able to collect around 60 tar balls.
Meanwhile, BP is attempting to renege on the contract and settlement agreement it made with local companies, claiming that everything is fine now.
Around the globe, oil companies are responsible for thousands of barrels of oil leaking into our waters and soil. It causes crippling diseases that can become chronic, life-long illnesses and even result in cancer. In the developing world, companies function with near impunity, as they know locals have neither the means nor ability to fight them. In the United States, they use the legal system to try to create loopholes to rescind on their responsibilities.
Considering humans and the local flora and fauna must deal with the repercussions of oil spills for years, oil companies should also be held accountable for the long range effects that victims across the globe are struggling to deal with.