From our friends at Louisiana Bucket Brigade:
Attendees of the “ Gulf Coast Leadership Summit” received a pleasant surprise this morning upon hearing a representative from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announce a ban on toxic dispersants -- as well as a free health care plan for spill and cleanup victims. Even more surprising: a BP co-presenter expressed regret for his company’s past actions, and said the oil giant would foot the bill for the new health care plan.
But the news was too good to be true. Surprise turned to confusion when an intensely irate BP representative barged into the room and interrupted the press conference. Comedy ensued as the two reps pointed fingers at each other, each claiming to be the real BP employee. Members of the press, confused, attempted to discover who was real and who wasn’t.
The answer was: except for the audience, everyone was a fake. The impostors Dr. Dean Winkeldom and Steve Wistwil, both Gulf Coast residents, collaborated with the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, an organization whose goal is to create sustainable communities free from industrial pollution. The organization decided to create a hoax to publicize what should be happening in response to the emerging health crisis.
“The process isn’t working. One year after the spill and there has still been no action on health care,” said Anne Rolfes, Founding Director of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade. “BP is the culprit, but the state and federal government are not fulfilling their obligation to stand up for us and make BP do the right thing. This action was all about highlighting the fact that people are truly sick and the government and BP are just standing by.”
The phony “Action Plan for Gulf Coast Toxic Exposure” presented at today’s conference claimed to establish a $525-million network of 35 health clinics along the Gulf Coast -- all to be paid for by British Petroleum. Residents say health clinics are needed not only to treat for oil exposure and accidents, but also for their exposure to the toxic chemicals that were used to hide the oil slick. In the most graphic part of the announcement, the “BP representative” explained how dispersants are working in the environment:
“The oil has vanished from sight, but something else is becoming visible: respiratory infections, kidney damage, liver psoriasis, neurological damage, chemical pneumonitis, and defatting of the skin. Those effects are all due to the dispersant we used, Corexit, and are part of the reason Corexit is banned in the United Kingdom. Here in the U.S., it’s legal, and so we used it.... Am I proud of that? Of course not.”
This unlikely show of remorse by the “BP representative” was of course fake, but what he said about the health effects of dispersants is, sadly, true. Despite the gruesome litany of known and unknown health impacts and environmental effects, these toxic chemicals are still legal to use in the U.S. Investigations by a number of major news organizations have discovered a range of mysterious illnesses afflicting clean-up crew and fishermen in the Gulf. Oil industry accidents are frequent. In 2009 there were 2,500 accidents in the Gulf, and hundreds more onshore at refineries.
“Those responsible want to pretend this disaster is over so they can get back to business as usual,” said Rolfes. “But for these sick people, the world is falling down around them. This fake announcement was just an expression of what HHS and BP should be doing. Now it’s up the government and BP to make these sensible proposals a reality.”
The Louisiana Bucket Brigade action was supported by the Yes Lab, a project of The Yes Men that helps activist groups carry out media-getting creative actions on their own. Four years ago in New Orleans, The Yes Men impersonated an official from the Department of Housing and Urban Development to announce, among other things, that HUD would re-open public housing and make oil companies pay up for wetlands destruction.
“Four years on, we still need a government that actually serves the needs of the people instead of the corporate interests,” said Mike Bonanno of the Yes Men. “That’s what this action was all about.”