NAACP Report: Some Gulf Coast Oil Spill Toxins Are Harder to See

From rising unemployment to domestic violence and depression, communities of color are still being hit hardest one year after the disaster.

By Yvonne Yen Liu Apr 20, 2011

It’s been one year since the explosion of Deepwater Horizon, which dumped 4.9 barrels of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico. Desperation has set among the communities of color impacted by the toxic oil spill. Earlier this year, an audience listening to the BP compensation czar Kenneth Feinberg was astounded when a black fisherman, Elmer Rogers, fell to his knees to ask for help.

"I’m not asking for the world, I’m just asking for something to live on man. That’s all I’m asking for. What you want me to do, get on my knees and beg for it? Look, I’m here, I’m on my knees for it. I need my money sir, to live."

Twenty billion dollars was allocated by BP to compensate individuals and businesses for the colossal damage they wreaked on the region. However, less than $4 billion has been paid out, and only 300,000 out of the 850,000 claims received.

A new report by the NAACP, "My Name is 6508799," revisits the Gulf and summarizes the devastation experienced by communities of color in the region. It paints a grim picture filled with falling property values, increased toxins in the bloodstream, and skyrocketing unemployment rates among fishing communities are close to 80 percent.

Clearly, the impact of the Gulf oil spill has been shouldered disproportionately by communities of color. The NAACP report collected interviews with numerous residents and advocates, documenting the spill’s impacts on Vietnamese oyster shuckers and workers of color hired to help with the clean up efforts. It doesn’t provide us with raced or gendered data. It’s anecdotal evidence to support already documented instances in which thousands of undocumented guestworkers brought in to aid clean up efforts were mistreated.

The long-term impacts of the oil spill will be felt for some time to come. Public health researchers noted in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) that chemicals in the oil spill and the subsequent dispersants used to clean it up pose short as well as long-term threats to health. The impacts, however, are not just physical. Depression and violence has been on the rise in these communities. Mayor Stan Wright of Bayou La Batre, Ala. told the BBC that domestic violence has increased by 320 percent and police calls are up by 110 percent daily since the spill.

Unfortunately, the process to file claims with BP disadvantages non-native English speakers with its byzantine paperwork requirements. Payments are also calculated based on previous tax returns, which disadvantages fishermen and shrimpers who often earn their income in cash. Public health facilities and community clinics are underfunded and inadequately resourced.

For now, Elmer Rogers waits for recovery, in desperation. "Thanksgiving…my kids barely ate. I barely ate. Christmas came. My child is 13 years old. She got nothing. You know what she woke up to? No water in the house, and no power."