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Oil Spill Could Lead To Harsh Mental Effects

June 30, 2010

A sociologist who studied the Exxon Valdez spill told reporters on Tuesday that the mental health impacts of the BP oil spill will dwarf those encountered after the last major oil spill of U.S. shores.

University of South Alabama researcher Steve Picou told Reuters that the effects of the spill will far overshadow the negative effects experienced that the Exxon tanker caused by dumping millions of gallons of crude in 1989, affecting 30,000 Alaskan residents.

A “significant minority” of those residents still continue to suffer the mental health consequences twenty years later, and Picou said the BP spill will affect far more people in communities along the Gulf of Mexico.

“What we’re looking at here … it boggles my mind,” Picou told Reuters. “Because you’re talking about hundreds and hundreds of communities and you’re talking about millions of people.”

The economic and ecological costs to tourism, wildlife, fishing and other industries continue to pile up along the Gulf coast since the April 22 explosion took place.

Louisiana officials asked BP on Monday to pay $10 million to help provide mental health services, the second time the state has requested funds to pay for counseling and other psychological services.

Picou told Florida volunteers that the BP spill is ongoing after 71 days and most of the effects still remain unknown.  Such an extended period of uncertainty leads to depression, marital discord and substance abuse as people isolate themselves from other members of the community.

“The important point is that no one can be rescued because it continues,” Picou told Reuters. “You cannot take an inventory of damages because the damages are unfolding.”

While the hotel business is still doing good, the frenetic pace that usually begins Memorial Day weekend and continues through August is noticeably absent amongst Florida’s beaches.

Charter boat operators and commercial fisherman have seen more immediate affects because the oil from a blown well over 100 miles away has stopped their livelihoods.

Food stamp applications are up nearly 20 percent in the past 60 days along the Panhandle region.  Unemployment is also up in the region as well.

Florida social services officials say they are already seeing increases in domestic abuse, child neglect and the other social maladies that are attached to a tight economy.

“These people are scared, they’re worried, they’re frustrated,” Phil Wieczynski, a Florida environmental official, told Reuters after a recent visit with 400 residents from the coastal city of Port St. Joe.

“They see what’s going on and we need to do whatever we can to assure them that steps are going to be taken to address issues and protect their way of life.”

Volunteers were asked on Tuesday to try and coordinate their activities to be able to successfully respond to long-term effects.

“This is going to burn out any individual group,” said Doug Zimmerman, president and CEO of VisionLink, a company that offers software for disaster recovery and volunteer management.

Image Caption: A large oil slick floats atop the surface of the turquoise waters of the Gulf of Mexico about one mile south of Perdido Key, Saturday, June 12, 2010. Photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Tasha Tully.

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