Gulf Coast Illusion

Not so fast, BP. The giant oil company is running TV ads trumpeting that the Gulf Coast is well on its way to recovery from the April 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Iris Cross, a public relations executive with 29 years of service at BP, is featured in the ads. Ms. Cross notes that she is a Gulf Coast native herself and waxes enthusiastically about the cleaned-up beaches and region's resurgent economy.

But there is another dimension to the BP spill's aftermath. Cherri Foytlin, founder of a southern Louisiana grassroots group called "Bridge the Gulf," told a recent Washington rally that "dead animals wash up on our coast every day; oil washes up on land every day. People are getting sick every day."

The Waterkeeper Alliance, a group of non-governmental citizen organizations monitoring the aftereffects of the BP spill, also has a less ebullient take than the oil company. In its 2011 State of the Gulf Report, the Alliance concludes that the spill "is an ongoing disaster. Reputable scientific studies show three-fourths of the oil is lingering on the bottom of the Gulf... along the coast and in its marshes... and in the tissues of many of the sea food species."

This leads the Alliance to declare that especially for youngsters and pregnant women, the "all clear" for consumption of Gulf seafood is "premature," a conclusion that conflicts with the exonerative findings of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Furthermore, the Alliance says that due to bioaccumulation, some of the seafood has become more rather than less contaminated with the passage of time.

Record dolphin mortality and fish deformities, including damage to the gills, continue to be documented in the Gulf. Researchers at Louisiana State University have detected long term adverse impacts on marine life's reproductive capacity.

Since the spill, many once perfectly healthy individuals -- especially kids -- in coastal areas have been reported pulmonary issues, respiratory problems, seizures, skin and eye ailments, and a host of other maladies linked to prolonged exposure to BP oil residues' toxic chemicals. One southern Louisiana school has had to keep a closet full of nebulizers at the ready to help pupils in respiratory distress breathe.

No one wants to put a damper on the Gulf Coast region's economy. Everyone wants a restoration to normality. But whitewashing the situation does no one any good and may actually slow the progress towards complete recovery.

As so often has been the case, BP's sunny pronouncements must be taken with a grain of salt. Some beaches may be sparkling clean, but out of sight in the ocean depths and just a little bit inland, all is not yet well. How the full recovery timeline will play out is anybody's guess.