Mapping the Impacts of the Gulf Oil Spill - What About Human Health?

A few weeks ago I visited the community of Lafitte on Barataria Bay along the Gulf Coast of Louisiana.  I was invited to attend a forum, held at the senior center, that was a conversation between a delegation of folks from Alaska and local residents on the impacts of oil and natural resources degradation on their communities. Image removed.

After the meeting, I had the opportunity to head out in a boat with a local fisherman to view the oil that had just begun to encroach upon the outer reaches of the Bay.  The talk that day was full of fears about the impending devastation but also hope that perhaps the worst could be avoided.


I was reminded of that trip when I took a look at a new online tool  developed by NOAA that allows you to zoom in on a map of the Gulf Coast, and among other data, see the extent of where oil has been reported. Red lines mark the areas of “heavy oiling” and blue indicates “no oil observed”.  Starting out at the mouth of the bay, near Grand Isle, I followed a patchwork of red and orange lines on the map northward up through the Bayous retracing, in reverse, the trip I had made by boat in May. Image removed.

As I scrolled on the screen, I passed areas where I had seen undisturbed and healthy wetlands, dolphins, and a shrimp boat casting its nets; perhaps for the last time. These areas were all now marked red or orange - oil impacted. The orange line (“moderate oiling”) stopped, on the map, about 7 miles from town and I wonder what it’s like beyond that point.  I’ve heard reports from local residents that the oily water had reached the canals near their homes and that they were worried about their health.

I zoomed out on the map, returning Barataria Bay to just mess of different colored lines, looking to see what other data is available on the map.  I clicked on a number of different boxes looking for data that might help answer some of the community’s health-related questions.  Unfortunately, I came up empty handed.  The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) air monitoring data, for example, wasn’t there.

Although EPA has been conducting air monitoring along the gulf coast and posting the results , it’s very difficult to match up these sampling points with the areas most impacted by the spill.  This map could be a great tool for better targeting the air monitoring to make sure it’s capturing the areas most impacted by oil.  Is EPA doing any monitoring near the town of Laffitte?  I, and the folks that live there, would sure like to know.

If you’re interested in learning more about EPA’s air quality monitoring, or health impacts of the Gulf Oil Spill, here are a few resources:


(Photos by NRDC, on Flickr)