Joe Yerkes is a Florida fisherman who joined BP’s Vessels of Opportunity (VOO) oil cleanup program because he was put out of work by BP’s 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster.
Following the 2010 explosion and sinking of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, which killed 11, a sea-floor oil gusher flowed for 87 days until it was capped nearly three months later.
The disaster, which began on April 20, 2010, released at least 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, coupled with 1.9 million gallons of toxic chemical dispersants that BP and the US Coast Guard used.
Yerkes was exposed to both oil and dispersants while working to clean up oil during his stint in the VOO program.
“I have spent the years since the spill happened literally trying to survive,” Yerkes told Truthout. “I’ve lost five friends now who were also exposed to BP’s oil and dispersants, who were unable to seek proper treatment to extract the chemicals from their bodies before the exposure killed them.”
Not long after his exposure, Yerkes became violently ill, started bleeding from his nose and ears, and began vomiting blood. When he couldn’t get well, he had his blood tested and found it contained high levels of chemicals, which his physician attributed to BP’s oil disaster.
Following the advice of his attending physician, Yerkes was forced to move away from the Gulf, to northern Georgia. Now he must regularly give himself intravenous treatments of saline flushes and various medications. “I have chronic headaches, a fever, and suffer chronic unbearable pain in my muscles and joints, and have had chemical pneumonia twice so far.”
For large numbers of fishermen and coastal residents living in the four-state impact zone of BP’s oil spill, the disaster has never ended.
Four years on, they, along with marine life and the broader ecosystem, continue to show clear signs of the chronic impact of the largest marine oil disaster in US history.
Dead Dolphins, Ailing Tuna, Sea Turtle Near Extinction
Oil from BP’s disaster is now linked to heart defects in both tuna and amberjack, according to a recent National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) study.
“We can now say with certainty that oil causes cardiotoxicity in fish,” Stanford University fisheries biologist Barbara Block said during a news conference on the study, which was also published in the esteemed Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
A recent University of South Florida study shows oil from BP’s disaster has floated underwater all the way down to Florida’s Sanibel Island (nearly all the way to the southern tip of Florida), sickening fish along the way. Meanwhile, a large mat of submerged oil, also confirmed as being from BP’s disaster, was found on a Florida beach before over 1,300 pounds of it were removed.
Insects living in wetland grasses along Louisiana’s coast that was oiled in the aftermath of BP’s disaster are still dying, according to a recent study by a Louisiana State University entomologist. The recent deaths, she says, are a result of exposure to oil that has remained in the marsh almost four years after the disaster began.
BP’s oil continues to take its toll on other areas of the Louisiana marsh, where people living in low-lying coastal communities are having to contemplate moving, hence abandoning their culture and way of life, due to the erosion of oiled marsh coupled with rising seas from climate change.
Despite all of this ongoing evidence of BP’s deleterious impact on the Gulf of Mexico region, President Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency has decided to allow the oil giant back into Gulf waters to search for more oil leases.
The impact of the BP disaster is not going away: Crude oil persists in the environment for, in some cases, decades. A full 25 years after the Exxon Valdez disaster in Alaska, the ongoing presence of relatively fresh oil in Prince William Sound continues to surprise scientists.
Migratory and reproductive cycles of regional wildlife continue to be severely affected, and at least one species of sea turtles in the area is now nearing extinction, according to a recent report by the National Wildlife Federation (NWF). Migratory patterns of turtles, as well as other species, were impacted by the massive amount of oil injected into the region.
“We remain particularly concerned about impacts of the oil on bottlenose dolphins,” the report, titled “Four Years into the Gulf Oil Disaster: Still Waiting for Restoration,” (PDF) reads. “As the continued poor health of these predators at the top of the food chain may indicate, problems in the ecosystem as a whole.”
According to the report, more than 900 dolphins have been found dead or stranded in the impact zone of the disaster since it began, and in 2013, dolphins were still stranding at more than three times the average annual rates they were prior to the spill.
Many of the dolphins in the NWF study were severely ill, underweight, anemic, and showing signs of liver and lung disease, with many of them so ill they did not survive while being tracked by the group.
These findings mirror those from the NOAA study on dolphins, which found them to have the same health issues.
Fishermen in Lousiana and Mississippi have told Truthout that they remain concerned about ongoing health defects they are finding in crab, shrimp and fish.
The NWF report shows that sea turtle deaths have spiked dramatically since the disaster began. It also logs the negative impact on the health and mortality of tuna, red snapper, mahi-mahi, blue crab, oysters, brown pelicans, common loons, coral, foraminifera, Gulf killifish, seaside sparrows, sperm whales and white pelicans.