‘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.

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8 responses to “‘Gulf Coast Syndrome’

  1. dublinmick

    Quite incredible isn’t it?

  2. How do the rest of us who know about this, and CARE about this and these people, get this into the news????

  3. Morgana,

    You know, that even if the controlled media (which is merely the government propaganda arm) decided to report on this, they would downplay it, and even suggest that it’s “all in your head” as the Gulf War Syndrome soldiers, and the Agent Orange victims before them, were told over and over for years. So how does the word get around? Right here in the blogosphere where most intelligent people get their information. I think a recent poll suggested that most people don’t trust the mainstream media anyway, so I really feel that what is important is to get the truth out on as many blogs as possible. That’s where the action is.

  4. Even if the blogs put this information out, people say it’s the
    ravings of a bunch of right wing activists or Liberals. No one
    wants truth, it’s way too scary.

  5. Human pride and arrogance enter into the equation too.

    Example: “If this was happening, I would have known about it by now! I’m well informed! I read the newspapers. I have two degrees in political science and botany! Are you a political scientist? I thought not! Ha!”

    And so such persons are literally driven mad by their own lethal combination of ignorance and arrogance. This then forms an impenetrable wall between them and the truth.

  6. This is like a sick interpretation of a Greek tragedy! But I agree PJ – we need to get this out to other blogo’s.

  7. Obviously having followed and see the disaster while common sense tells us DEAD animals, birds, fish with the Center of the Gulf already dead and expanding–there should have been prevention as it was a guarantee. Just like Desert Storm when the Turks warned the US of bioweapons which Turkish Troops had equipment: not US Military–whose insides ate them inside out…just like Agent Orange–yet I have not seen one article in the Houston Chronicle–just sob stories about illegals, white collar crime; gangs with their lifestyles taking over…and propaganda…all is well!
    DNA is beyond disturbed for all living cells and the rivers have obsorbed it all…oh but we are being told: the seafood NO PROBLEMA!
    While the illegal White House occupant with his 101 Un Cons titutional Socialist CZARs pay off the world with US Play money–we receive the IOU’s…and are further poisoned by the Communist Chinese and they benefit from the oil rigs dismantled sent around the world along with the J O B s to drill at 2,000 feet in Brazil for Communist China and in the Gulf for Mexico and the deepest deep water port in the Baja…
    A set up to take us down and out…all I can say is get the Gov to speak up of Louisiana…Perry is too busy telling lies to the nation…along with the others.

  8. This will be presented to our Houston groups…and my local reps federal and State…and at our Tea Party and…I will ask the ACLU to help Americans for once at the next meeting and training! I have friends who began a business in New Orleans: while departing out the front door they were being robbed from the rear-the wife had a heart attack and I have not heard from them for a very long time…they lost home and business..awaiting their insurance for the home.. The CDC should have been there; but then the FEDERAL GOV just watched it all..FEMA–and HAZMAT were negligent as well. We had their training…too so we know personally what is expected in such matters–but did not transpire…

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