Daily Archives: May 13, 2011

‘Gulf Coast Syndrome’


A year after the BP disaster, some Southerners say they’re coming down with mysterious and frightening illnesses

“This is the best-hidden secret perhaps in the history of our nation.”

csindy.com | May 13, 2011

by Alex Woodward

Dr. Mike Robichaux speaks into a microphone while standing on a truck bed in the shade of a massive tree in his yard in Raceland, La. He’s wearing a blue polo shirt and jeans, and his white-gray hair is parted neatly. The former state senator, known affectionately as Dr. Mike, is an ear, nose and throat specialist in Lafourche Parish and self-described “too easygoing of a guy.” But today, he’s pissed.

“Nobody is fussing about this,” he says.

Robichaux invited his patients and dozens of others to speak about their situations. Outside of neighborhood papers with names like the Houma Courier, the Daily Comet and Tri-Parish Times, their stories exist solely on blogs and Facebook — unless you visit Al Jazeera English, or sources in Germany, Belgium and elsewhere in Europe.

A Swiss TV crew asks me why U.S. media aren’t talking about this. It’s a good question.

In the wake of the BP oil disaster, thousands of Gulf cleanup workers and residents have reported illnesses, with symptoms as tame as headaches or as violent as bloody stools and seizures. Nonprofit groups and teams of scientists are looking for answers using blood tests, surveys, maps, and soil and seafood samples.

The Louisiana Bucket Brigade (LABB), a nonprofit environmental group, recently completed its survey of coastal Louisiana residents and found a dire need for medical attention. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) began its “Gulf Long-Term Follow-Up Study for Oil Spill Clean-Up Workers and Volunteers” (GuLF Study) to follow the health of 55,000 cleanup crew members over 10 years. It’s the largest study to monitor the disaster, but it won’t be treating its participants. GuLF Study leader Dr. Dale Sandler says the illnesses “need to be taken seriously.”

“People are sick,” she says.

So where is the help?

‘Driving me crazy’

Behind Robichaux, cars line a gravel drive along the bayou. Guests pull up chairs around the truck bed, cameras are rolling, and members of the media outweigh the guests 10-to-1. A year after the April 20, 2010 wellhead explosion at the Deepwater Horizon rig that killed 11 workers, spewed millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf for more than 100 days, and closed fisheries and businesses along the Gulf Coast, some people are finally listening.

“We wanted to be proactive and go out there and get it cleaned up as fast as we can, and do whatever it takes,” remembers charter boat captain Louis Bayhi, who worked for BP in the early days of the disaster. When his crew made it to shore, he went through a triage tent where doctors asked how he was feeling — but his complaints of headaches were brushed off as seasickness, he says.

Months later, Bayhi still hasn’t been paid the $255,000 he says he’s owed for his work in Vessels of Opportunity, a BP-administered program wherein private boat-owners assisted with cleanup efforts. He’s visited hospitals for severe abdominal pains, but he doesn’t have health insurance, and no insurance provider will take him on, he says. He lost his home, and he and his family — his wife and his 2- and 3-year-old daughters — now live with his wife’s grandmother. The family visited Grand Isle beaches in August, where his kids swam in the water and played in the sand.

“My little girls now have more toxins in their blood than I have. That hurts more. I blame myself,” he says, fighting back tears. “I let them go and swim and play in the beach, but at the same time those sons of bitches said it was safe.”

Bayhi’s story is not uncommon for many living on the Gulf Coast.

One of the first “whistleblowers” in south Louisiana, Kindra Arnesen, a fisherman’s wife in Plaquemines Parish, became a public face of mysterious diagnoses and chemical exposure symptoms last summer. Others have come forward, like 22-year-old Paul Doom from Navarre, Fla., who says he swam in the Gulf last summer and now experiences daily seizures and is in a wheelchair following a stroke — with hundreds of doctors he has seen unable to explain why.

Clayton Matherne is a former professional wrestler of 15 years, and at 295 pounds, he looks it. Yet Robichaux says, “When I first met him, he was dying. Literally dying.”

Matherne was an engineer on a support boat near the Deepwater rig when it exploded, and says crews sprayed dispersants directly on top of him. Matherne wasn’t provided a respirator. Since May 30, 2010, he’s suffered paralysis, impaired vision and severe headaches, and he frequently coughs up blood.

“I don’t know why things are happening like this,” he says through tears in a YouTube video dated March 25. “But it seems to get worse and worse every day. … It’s driving me crazy. … I laid in bed last night and prayed that God would just let me die, you know. I’m tired of suffering, you know. I’m tired of watching my family suffer.”

Matherne’s wife Becky says her parents are supporting the family, now that they’ve lost their house. She says she and her husband have been approved for a home through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Full Story

British Columbia’s blueberry crop taking a hit from third coldest April on record and a cooler-than-usual May

B.C. blueberry crop under the weather

CBC News | May 12, 2011

B.C.’s lucrative blueberry crop is taking a hit from the weather as parts of the province have had to endure the third coldest April on record and a cooler-than-usual early May.

Abbotsford farmer Kerry Seale’s blueberry bushes are usually in full bloom by this time of year, but the wet, cold weather this spring has made it difficult for workers to even get into the fields.

The bees, which are vital for pollination, aren’t flying far from their hives, because they won’t venture out until the temperature reaches about 13 C.

“There’s only been three or four of those days in April,” said Seale. “We expect more of them in May, but they are also sensitive to wind and rain.”

B.C.’s blueberry industry accounts for about 95 per cent of the high-bush blueberries in Canada.

The anti-oxidant rich fruit is in high demand outside the country, too, making it the number-one exported fruit.

“Our farm-gate value is somewhere between $85 [million] to $90 million,” said Debbie Etsell, executive director of the B.C. Blueberry Council. “And that doesn’t include all the labour and the further processing value added as well.”
Three weeks behind

The crops can still be saved if there are enough warmer days between now and mid-June, even though growth currently is behind by about three weeks, said Seale.

Last year, the bees were out by the end of April.

“If we don’t get the flying days for the bees, then there’ll be less pollination and there will be smaller and fewer blueberries,” said Seale.”The more time the bee touches the flower, the bigger the blueberries get.”

Seale tries to keep a sense of humour about what he can’t control.

“It’s a bit like life, it keeps on going whether you like it or not.”

Britain’s cold homes leading to increased deaths: Study

sify.com | May 13, 2011

A new study has revealed that cold homes in Britain are leading to increased deaths and environment damage.

It highlights that every year there are around 5,500 more deaths in the coldest quarter of houses in the UK, than would occur if those houses were warm.

The authors, Dr Keith Dear and Professor Anthony McMichael from the Australian National University in Canberra say Marmot’s report identifies three gains that could be achieved by improving the insulation in British homes. These are saving lives, protecting the environment and reducing health inequalities.

Though, elderly people living in cold homes are more prone to heart and lung diseases, cold homes can affect health at any age.

Children are more likely to suffer from breathing problems and adolescents living in such house have an increased risk of mental health problems, researchers explained.

They concluded that Britain “is saddled with obsolete housing stock many decades, if not centuries, old. These inadequate homes are a waste of energy, a health hazard, and (given today’s levels of national wealth) a shameful relic for their part in fostering persistent, avoidable, social inequity.”

The study has been published in the journal BMJ. (ANI)

GM canola contamination row escalates in Western Australia


Stephen Marsh, organic farmer at Kojonup, Western Australia

abc.net.au | May 13, 2011

A farmer in WA’s Great Southern says he’s planted a new, larger genetically modified canola crop, despite allegations he previously contaminated a neighbour’s crop.

Kojonup farmer Steve Marsh threatened legal action last year claiming his organic spelt wheat crop was contaminated by GM canola blowing in from Michael Baxter’s adjacent paddock.

Mr Baxter has confirmed he’s planted a larger GM crop this year.

Mr Marsh, who lost his organic certification when his crop tested positive for GM, says other organic farms in the area are now at risk of contamination.

“Obviously near this other block, within 700 metres or a bit more, there is another organic farmer that could also, knowing that the GM canola has travelled up to 1.5 kilometres, be in my situation. That could put his property at high risk.”

Babies given anti-obesity drugs in the womb


Doctors hope it will prevent the birth of oversized babies, thereby reducing the need for caesarean sections Photo: ALAMY

Babies to be given diet drug in the womb to stop them being born overweight in trial described as ‘disturbing’ by weight loss groups.

Telegraph | May 11, 2011

One hundred obese mums-to-be will be given Metformin as part of a three-year study to tackle obesity rates and reduce the number of difficult births.

Patients at Liverpool Women’s Hospital will be given the drug to reduce the food supply to their unborn babies, although it will not help the mums themselves to lose weight.

Leading the trial, senior lecturer in obstetrics, Dr Andrew Weeks, said: “It is about trying to improve outcomes in pregnancy for women who are overweight.

“The problem is babies tend to be larger and many of the downsides of being overweight during pregnancy relate to the birth.”

Metformin reduces blood sugar levels which are passed onto babies in the womb, and is already regularly used to treat diabetic mums-to-be, as well as diabetics in general.

During the study, half of the patients will take Metformin pills up to three times a day from 12 weeks gestation, while the other half will be given placebo drugs.

Doctors hope it will prevent the birth of oversized babies, thereby reducing the need for caesarean sections.

Instances of pre-eclampsia, the potentially fatal complication in pregnancy common to overweight mothers, are also hoped to be reduced.

The trial will run as a joint study between hospitals in Liverpool, Coventry and Edinburgh and will monitor over 400 women in total.

Dr Weeks added: “The difficulty comes when you have been living in a particular way for years that is not healthy.

“To suddenly change to a different lifestyle is not easy to do.

“Lifestyle change takes time and we would always encourage this as well but the use of Metformin gives us another option when the other is not realistic.”

However, a leading expert behind the UK’s fastest growing weight loss organisation has voiced concerns over giving pregnant women drugs to prevent them having obese babies.

CEO of All About Weight, Alison Wetton, said: “Women rightfully feel uneasy – no mother-to-be likes to take medication.

“The fact that the widely-used diabetes pill, Metformin, is being trialled to prevent obese babies being born to overweight mothers is disturbing to me, and I am sure most other women as well.”

Will Williams, scientific advisor for All About Weight, added that, although there were “reasonable grounds” for the trial, it was “a shame that it is needed at all”.

He said: “We know Metformin is safe in pregnancy and has no negative effects on the child up to 2 years, but there is a lack of studies on older children.

“Women wanting to conceive could instead lose weight by following a healthy weight loss plan, including diet and exercise.

“This would achieve all the things that the Metformin trial is hoping to do, without the risks or costs of adding a drug with uncertain long term effects.

“This would be far preferable to popping a pill that may help pregnancy outcomes.

“It is unlikely to break the cycle of an unhealthy lifestyle leading to overweight children and the continuing rise of obesity and diabetes in the general population.”

However, Jane Norman, Professor of Maternal and Foetal Health at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary and the University of Edinburgh, believes the benefits of the trial will outweigh the risks.

Prof Norman, a representative of leading pregnancy charity Tommy’s, said: “Research has shown that babies born to obese mothers are at increased risk of complications in later life.

“Obese pregnant women have high levels of glucose and Metformin is proven to reduce glucose.

“We have to be careful with the use of drugs in pregnancy but we already know that it is safe to give expectant mothers.

“It is likely that Metformin will prevent babies from getting too big and, putting all these factors together, I am confident that the benefits will outweigh the risks.”

White House: No more staged news events or faked photo shoots


In this May 1, 2011 file photo, President Barack Obama reads his statement to photographers after making a televised statement on the death of Osama bin Laden from the East Room of the White House in Washington. After an extraordinary week of events in the United States and abroad, one thing is clear: Osama bin Laden’s death at the hands of American forces has the potential to ripple out into global affairs in countless ways — political and military, diplomatic and cultural, and of course national security in the United States. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)

AP | May 12, 2011

by David Bauder

NEW YORK – The White House said it is ending its long-running practice of having presidents re-enact televised speeches for news photographers following major addresses to the country, a little-known arrangement that fed suggestions of fakery when Barack Obama announced the death of Osama bin Laden.

After Obama’s live, late-evening address from the East Room of the White House on May 1, five photographers were ushered in to shoot pictures as the president stood at the podium and re-read a few lines of his speech — a practice that news organizations have protested for years.

Even though The Associated Press and other news outlets said in captions to the photos that they were taken after the president delivered his address, many people who saw them may have assumed they depicted the speech itself. That raised questions of whether news organizations were staging an event.

The issue also drew attention when Jason Reed of Reuters, one of the photographers who took part, blogged about the assignment, saying the president “re-enacted the walkout and first 30 seconds of the statement for us.”

Related

Video blackout during raid on bin Laden compound furthers doubts about US version of events

This week, the White House stepped in.

“We have concluded that this arrangement is a bad idea,” Obama spokesman Josh Earnest said late Wednesday. He said the administration is open to working out some new arrangement with photographers.

The practice of re-enactments has a long history. Washington veterans say President Harry Truman would deliver speeches over radio and then repeat them for newsreel cameras. Doug Mills, a photographer for The New York Times who was on duty May 1, said he has seen every president from Ronald Reagan to Obama take time after a speech so still photographers could get their shots.

Photographers know that for these major televised addresses, delivered from the White House without an audience, newspapers and websites expect to illustrate their stories with a picture of the president speaking. News organizations disdain White House handout photos, preferring to take the pictures themselves. They consider “screen grabs” from television to be of poor quality.

Yet the presence of still photographers with cameras that make noise can be a distraction to a president, particularly in cramped settings such as the Oval Office, and perhaps to viewers of the speech.

“All it takes is for some photographer to drop something and the president react to it, and it looks terrible on television,” Mills said.

The AP, in the photo captions transmitted with pictures shot by Pablo Martinez Monsivais, said: “President Barack Obama reads his statement to photographers after making a televised statement” on bin Laden’s death. Despite that, a survey by the journalism think tank Poynter Institute found that 30 of 50 newspaper front pages that used an Obama photo from the speech “implied or strongly suggested it was an image of the live address.”

Santiago Lyon, director of photography for the AP, said the news service “would welcome real-time access to these sort of addresses in a way that maintains our journalistic independence.”

The White House usually has an official photographer on duty, and the administration’s Pete Souza took pictures of the president’s real speech that night. But news organizations generally resist using handouts unless necessary — as was the case with the official photos of the White House Situation Room during the mission that killed bin Laden.

Also, the role of the official White House photographer is to show presidents in a good light. For example, if a president were to shed a tear or get visibly angry during a speech, it might make a great news photo, but probably not one the White House staff would want to circulate.

Don Winslow, editor of News Photographer magazine for the National Press Photographers Association, said the White House offered a pool arrangement for national addresses, where one photographer would be chosen and would agree to distribute a photo to colleagues, but news organizations rejected it.

David Ake, assistant AP bureau chief for photography in Washington, said the White House has not approached the AP with the idea. But he said single-photographer pools allow only one point of view.

“There are examples every day of the variety of pictures made when several photographers are present for a news event,” Ake said. “Single-photographer pools stifle the creativity created by competition among several photographers to make the best storytelling image.”

There are conflicting accounts on whether technology exists to take photographs without distracting the president. One idea could be using mirrors so photographers could do their jobs out of the president’s sight line, the White House’s Earnest said.

“We’re optimistic that we can work out another arrangement with the still photographers,” he said.

All-female sect worships Vladimir Putin as Paul the Apostle


Russia’s Prime Minister Vladimir Putin addresses the parliament at Russian State Duma in Moscow Photo: REUTERS

Vladimir Putin has become the object of veneration for a bizarre Russian all-female sect whose followers believe that the tough-talking prime minister is a reincarnation of the early Christian missionary Paul the Apostle.

Followers are reportedly encouraged to sing upbeat patriotic Soviet songs at ‘services’ rather than hymns.

Telegraph | May 12, 2011

By Andrew Osborn, Moscow

Members of the sect that has sprung up in a Russian village some 250 miles southeast of Moscow believe that the 58-year-old macho Russian politician is on a special mission from God.

“According to the Bible, Paul the Apostle was a military commander at first and an evil persecutor of Christians before he started spreading the Christian gospel,” the sect’s founder, who styles herself Mother Fotina, said.

“In his days in the KGB, Putin also did some rather unrighteous things. But once he became president, he was imbued with the Holy Spirit, and just like the apostle, he started wisely leading his flock. It is hard for him now but he is fulfilling his heroic deed as an apostle.”

Reports from the sect’s headquarters close to the town of Nizhny Novgorod say that its members are all women who dress like nuns and pray for Mr Putin’s success in front of traditional Russian Orthodox Church icons that have been placed alongside a portrait of the Russian prime minister himself.

Related

Russian sects: from Rasputin to the ‘Jesus of Siberia’

Followers are reportedly encouraged to sing upbeat patriotic Soviet songs at ‘services’ rather than hymns.

As befits a sect that worships a man who has denounced the decadence of the oligarchs, the sect’s members are said to survive on a Spartan diet of turnips, carrots, peas and buckwheat.

According to local media, Mother Fotina’s real name is Svetlana Frolova.

Father Alexei, the priest in the local village church, has dismissed the sect.

“Her so-called teachings are a nonsensical mixture of Orthodoxy, Catholicism, the occult, Buddhism and political information,” he said.

“But (Mother) Fotina does not come across as a mad person.”

Mr Putin’s spokesman said he was bemused.

“This is the first I’ve heard of such a religious group,” said Dmitry Peskov. “It is impressive that they think so highly of the prime minister’s work but I would like to recall another of the main commandments: thou shalt not worship false idols.”

A new political front created by Mr Putin meanwhile announced it may choose a candidate to run in the 2012 presidential election, in the latest sign the Russian strongman is eyeing a Kremlin return.

Mr Putin set up the Popular Front political movement to unify his supporters, from celebrities to pensioners alike. Dmitry Medvedev, the current president, vowed to respond to Mr Putin’s new coalition, by promising to create “other election alliances”, in the latest sign of a rivalry between the duo.