James "Catfish" Miller, Mississippi commercial fisherman-turned-whistleblower. (Photo: Erika Blumenfeld Ã
The rampant use of toxic dispersants, out-of-state private contractors being brought in to spray them and US Coast Guard complicity are common stories now in the four states most affected by BP's Gulf of Mexico oil disaster.
Commercial and charter fishermen, residents and members of BP's Vessels Of Opportunity (VOO) program in Florida, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana have spoken with Truthout about their witnessing all of these incidents.
Toxic Dispersants Found on Recently Opened Mississippi Shrimping and Oyster Grounds
On Monday, August 9, the Director of the State of Mississippi Department of Marine Resources (DMR), Bill Walker, despite ongoing reports of tar balls, oil and dispersants being found in Mississippi waters, declared, "there should be no new threats" and issued an order for all local coast governments to halt ongoing oil disaster work being funded by BP money that was granted to the state.
BP had allocated $25 million to Mississippi for local government disaster work. As of August 9, Walker estimated that only about $500,000 worth of invoices for oil response work had been submitted to the state. Nobody knows what the rest of the money will be used for.
Recent days in Mississippi waters found fishermen and scientists finding oil in Garden Pond on Horn Island, massive fish kills near Cat Island, "black water" in Mississippi Sound and submerged oil in Pass Christian.
Boom inside Pass Christian Harbor. (Photo: Erika Blumenfeld © 2010)
Mississippi residents and fishermen Truthout spoke with believe Walker's move was from an order given by Gov. Haley Barbour, who has been heavily criticized over the years for his lobbying on behalf of the Tobacco and Oil industries.
Two days after Walker's announcement and in response to claims from state and federal officials that Gulf Coast waters are safe and clean, fishermen took their own samples from the waters off of Pass Christian in Mississippi.
The samples were taken in water that is now open for shrimping, as well as from waters directly over Mississippi's oyster bed, that will likely open in September for fishing.
Commercial fisherman James "Catfish" Miller, took fishermen Danny Ross Jr. and Mark Stewart, along with scientist Dr. Ed Cake of Gulf Environmental Associates and others out and they found the fishing grounds to be contaminated with oil and dispersants.
Their method was simple - they tied an absorbent rag to a weighted hook, dropped it overboard for a short duration of time, then pulled it up to find the results. The rags were covered in a brown, oily substance that the fishermen identified as a mix of BP's crude oil and toxic dispersants.
Shortly thereafter, Catfish Miller took the samples to a community meeting in nearby D'Iberville to show fishermen and families. At the meeting, fishermen unanimously supported a petition calling for the firing of Dr. Walker, the head of Mississippi's DMR, who is responsible for opening the fishing grounds.
Dr. Cake wrote of the experience: "When the vessel was stopped for sampling, small, 0.5- to 1.0-inch-diameter bubbles would periodically rise to the surface and shortly thereafter they would pop leaving a small oil sheen. According to the fishermen, several of BP's Vessels-of-Opportunity (Carolina Skiffs with tanks of dispersants [Corexit]) were hand spraying in Mississippi Sound off the Pass Christian Harbor in prior days/nights. It appears to this observer that the dispersants are still in the area and are continuing to react with oil in the waters off Pass Christian Harbor."
Ongoing Contamination and the Carolina Skiffs
On August 13, Truthout visited Pass Christian Harbor in Mississippi. Oil sheen was present, the vapors of which could be smelled, causing our eyes to burn. Many ropes that tied boats to the dock were oiled and much of the water covered with oil sheen.
Dahr Jamail, an independent journalist, is the author of "The Will to Resist: Soldiers Who Refuse to Fight in Iraq and Afghanistan," (Haymarket Books, 2009), and "Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches From an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq," (Haymarket Books, 2007). Jamail reported from occupied Iraq for nine months as well as from Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Turkey over the last five years.
Erika Blumenfeld is an internationally exhibiting artist and Guggenheim Fellow with a BFA in Photography from Parsons School of Design. She is known for her Light Recordings series, and her ambitious work The Polar Project, a series of environment-focused artworks that document the environment of Antarctica and the Arctic. Blumenfeld’s installations have been exhibited widely in galleries and museums in the US and abroad, and have been featured in /Art In America/, /ARTnews/ and more than half a dozen books. She is posting her photographs of the Gulf Coast on her blog.