Editor's note: At 8 p.m. ET Gary Tuchman reports on the lasting effects of the BP oil spill disaster.
For much of the country, the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster ended when the well was finally capped on July 15, 2010. Government predictions of the damage from millions of gallons of oil and dispersant were not as dire as many feared, media attention subsided and most people just moved on. But for those whose survival depends on the Gulf, they say they still live with the disaster every day.
“This oil disaster … was like a reoccurring nightmare. It was like a Hurricane Katrina every day. What is tomorrow going to bring? Are they going to be able to stop it? What's our lives going to be like?” said Clint Guidry, President of the Louisiana Shrimp Association. He added, “You still see a lot of that – so many uncertainties and so many question marks on what's going to happen to our fishery?”
That fishery could be in serious trouble from issues related to the oil spill.
The most immediate problem for Guidry and the thousands in his industry is the shrimp harvest – he’s reporting it’s down between 50% and 80% this season. There are a number of theories on what’s causing the decline, but many are questioning if the oil spill is to blame.
While official tallies on the harvest won’t be complete until next year, fishermen say they’re feeling the pain today. “We’re hoping for a miracle right now,” said Tom Barrios, a third generation shrimp and crab fisherman and owner of Barrios Seafood Restaurant. “If things don't turn around, we're literally going to have to shut down," he added.
Another potential issue with the Gulf seafood could hurt people years from now. A new report from the environmental group the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) alleges that because of the oil spill, eating seafood from the Gulf can increase the risk of cancer for children and the unborn babies of pregnant women.
“What the chemicals in oil do is they damage chromosomes, interact with DNA, cause cell mutations (and) can increase the risk or cause various cancers,” said Dr. Gina Solomon, Senior Scientist with the NRDC. She added, “the specific issues seen in the babies exposed to these kinds of oil contaminants are DNA damage, low birth weight and growth defects, in utero.”
The Food and Drug Administration vehemently denies the findings of the NRDC report. “The seafood from the Gulf of Mexico is safe to consume for all consumers including pregnant women and children,” says Robert Dickey, Director of the FDA’s Gulf Coast Seafood Laboratory.
Dickey maintains that the NRDC’s conclusions were based on faulty calculations, adding, “the amount of seafood that somebody would have to eat would be the equivalent to sixty-three pounds of shrimp, or five pounds of oyster, or nine pounds of fin fish every day for five years before they would exceed levels to be concerned of. That’s how low the residues are in the seafood.”
Despite assurances from the government, Guidry and others who depend on the public’s confidence in Gulf seafood are questioning its safety and believe the low shrimp crop is an unwelcome specter of bigger issues. “We had all of these toxins last year and it's starting to show,” said Guidry, adding, “I really think that the worst is yet to come.”
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