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The Spill

Watching the Beach Workers

Philip L. Levin, MD

Philip L. Levin, MD, serves as President of the 120 member Gulf Coast Writers Association based in Gulfport, MS. He's authored a mystery novel and children's photo fable, and edited two published anthologies. With thirty-two years of full time E.R. experience, he travels the world to volunteer as a medical missionary, this year in Kenya. His short stories and articles have appeared in forty online and print journals. His website:

Nine years ago when I was looking for a new place to live, Mississippi was not high on my list of possibilities.  Yet when I came for my interview at the Mississippi Coast’s one county hospital, I fell in love with the facility, the friendly people, and, most of all, the coast itself.   I drove Beach Boulevard, gazing in awe at the gorgeous stately old mansions north of Beach Boulevard, and the breathtakingly beautiful white sand beaches on the south.  Katrina destroyed the first, and now the oil spill is wrecking the latter.

I’ve been an E.R. doctor for thirty-two years, formerly of Houston and Virginia.  I love the sweet slow pace of South Mississippi where people drive slower than the speed limit just because they’re in no hurry to get anywhere.  I’ve reveled in my condo with its spectacular beach views, my evening walks on empty clean beaches, and the fresh scrumptious seafood.  Yet all this is threatened by the oil spill.  The view from my window now features yellow jacketed sand scrapers, port-a-johns, ugly brown trash dumpsters, and piles of non-degradable bags of sandy oil waste.  The evening walks are now trepidatious paths between rusty slime.  The seafood is unavailable.

In my E.R., cases of oil fume exposures are becoming fairly common.  The other day I treated a sixteen-year-old girl who runs every day at home in Georgia.  Here visiting her father for a week, she hardly made a mile on the beach before suffering an asthma attack, her first such episode in five years.  Oil fumes.

The acute economic effects are seen everywhere, from our overflowing psychiatric unit to the mass of newly uninsured, bewildered at having to come to the E.R. for their medical needs.  These will be long term effects, but as a physician, I’m even more concerned about the long term complications of the oil spill.  Toxic chemicals, such as the polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons like Benzene, and the volatile hydrocarbons, such as Hydrogen Sulfide and Methylene Chloride, cause cancer, birth defects, and permanent gastrointestinal and renal damage.  Cognitive damage (trouble thinking) is both an acute and a chronic complication.

I still enjoy my home on the beach, sunny and verdant, with its green lawn leading to the oak and palm tree lined road, across the white sands, to the blue gulf waters stretching to a mirrored horizon.  In the distance the fishing boats and trawlers still tramp across the seas.  And I suppose the squadron of workers and their accessories will be only temporary distractions.  But I know, just as Katrina forever changed the land, the oil will forever change the sea.

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