Well, the last few months have been extraordinarily busy, but I’m finally back and ready to get blogging again. In one of my last posts, I had mentioned that I was heading to the Gulf of Mexico to assist with the bird rehabilitation efforts there. The IBRRC (who I had worked closely with during the Treasure oil spill rescue in South Africa) had taken me on as a consultant – my bags were packed and I was ready to go. Then, frightening reports began emerging from the Gulf. The dispersant (Corexit) being used to break up and submerge the oil from the Deepwater Horizon well had been applied in massive quantities – close to two million gallons were sprayed on top of, and injected into, the waters of the Gulf. Virtually the entire world supply was dumped into the region. Ironically, this particular formulation of Corexit was banned in the UK ten years ago because it is extremely toxic and damaging to the environment – despite this fact, BP had no compunction about using it in US waters. They even continued using it after the EPA told them to cease and desist.
What was most alarming, however, were the reports about the impacts on human health after this same dispersant was used during the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska 20 years ago. Dr. Rikki Ott, a leading marine toxicologist who lived in the region at the time of the Exxon Valdez spill, was on the front lines during the months following this event. Check out her website and books (including Not One Drop), in which she discusses the devastating effects on the health of the clean-up workers who were exposed to Corexit. She and other scientists have conducted a great deal of research in the years since that spill, and their findings are chilling. Many of the clean-up workers who were on the front lines are now dead – all dying before the age of 51. Those who survived have been left with chronic respiratory illnesses and other crippling health problems including blood disorders, and liver and kidney damage. This last one is where my antennae went up.
Something that most people do not know about me is that I was born with just one kidney. Yep – just one. And I would really prefer to keep it, thank you. My cousin (who has polycystic kidney disease) endured dialysis three days a week for three years while waiting for a donor kidney following the removal of her diseased kidneys. Now she swallows anti-rejection medications every day and prays that her new kidney won’t fail. I would rather not go through this same grueling experience. After consulting with several specialists, I made the extremely difficult decision to not go to the Gulf. I was devastated not to be able to participate in this rescue effort, but I was strongly advised against going, since my health and safety could not be guaranteed. As compelled as I felt to go to the Gulf to help, I could no longer ignore the red flags waving in my face – my friends and family members were all extremely relieved when I finally decided to remain in Massachusetts, far from the toxic oil and Corexit.
As disappointed as I was, I was buoyed by many messages of support from my friends and colleagues, all of whom reminded me that I can still help – just not in the same way that I had during the Treasure rescue ten years ago. Although I would not be there in the trenches this time washing and feeding oiled birds, as an educator and author, I can help from afar by speaking and writing to spread the word about these critical issues. I can also make a difference by donating to groups that are there on the front lines caring for the many animals affected by this disaster – in fact, I had already planned to do so by donating part of the proceeds from my book, The Great Penguin Rescue, to Gulf oil spill relief efforts. And each of you can do the same. You certainly don’t have to be an educator or an author to care. And you don’t have to be an educator or author to help either. Each one of you has the power to make a difference. All it takes is sharing a Facebook or blog post about the oil spill, talking about it with your children and friends, making a donation to the IBRRC or other wildlife centers involved with the rescue. We can each do something that contributes to the greater whole – it all begins with one. Will you be that one?