First I would like to thank Greenpeace for allowing me the honor of writing a blog for the one-year anniversary of the BP oil disaster. You are the best and on behalf of the millions of people on the gulf, we thank you for the research and help you gave after this spill.
I remember the first time I smelled the oil. I was at my son’s baseball game. Part way into the game everyone began to smell something like burning tires.
The air got very heavy and I could feel it on my skin and taste it in my mouth. That was the first night my son woke me up saying he couldn’t breathe. Every night after that was the same, whether we could smell the oil or not.
We later found out that first time we smelled the oil was the first time they had the burns out on the water. My son woke me up every night needing to use his inhaler. He has been an asthmatic since he was small, but not in years had he been that bad.
I made the difficult decision to send my son to boarding school. I knew his respiratory health would only get worse as more and more oil washed ashore. We both suffered respiratory symptoms as the burns continued and my decision to send my son away became more and more of a good thing.
My family lived on the beach in Pass Christian, MS for most of my life. We all enjoyed swimming and fishing in the gulf and enjoying sunsets on the beach. I have lived from New Orleans to Pensacola in my adult years. This is my home.
I don’t want to live anywhere else. My sister, Jo Billups and I have been long time environmental activists. Jo is part of a singing duo called Sassafrass. She and her musical partner, Karen Harvill have been spreading the word through original music for many years and have been my go-to ladies for all things concerning the environment. We knew this was huge and spent a great deal of time wondering what we could do about it.
While Jo and Karen sang across the gulf, I partnered with an amazing group called Project Gulf Impact. PGI came to the gulf last spring to make a quick documentary and have now been taken in by the culture and the people and stayed the year.
PGI had wanted to tour the East Coast colleges to speak about the spill and the media black out as well as the health impacts of the oil and dispersants. When Cherri Foytlin approached them about doing a walk to Washington, they all got very excited. It took me a while to warm to the idea and I changed my mind several times before I committed.
My primary reason for joining this walk was to show my son that it is possible make a stand without causing controversy. I also felt it would be better to do something rather then sit home with my head in my hands. I also thought it would be a great opportunity to speak to people about the spill.
My anger and resentment at the loss we have faced really needed an outlet. I have been astonished at the news stations for their under reporting, as well as the media campaigns to get people back to the gulf and eat the seafood. The lies that have been told could stretch as far as we have walked!
On March 13 we began our journey to Washington. My son was eager to join us when he could and was a welcome and helpful addition. After thirty-one days we made it. Mission accomplished! We arrived in DC!
One of the best parts of the walk was getting the opportunity to educate many folks along the way. Without exception, every person we met had no knowledge that oil was still an issue and no one had ever heard of the chemical dispersant, Corexit. Now they know.
I feel in some small way that we made a difference and it was worth the physical, mental and emotional challenge. Neither tornados, flat tires nor gas leaks could slow us down… at least not for long!
Today is the anniversary. I feel deeply sorry for the families that lost loved ones on the Deepwater Horizon Rig. I grieve for the loss of the marine life. I grieve for the loss of my home. It hits me in waves as I realize I will not be able to go home.
The aftermath of hurricane Katrina was not half so bad. We knew we could clean up and after a while life would return to normal. According to the best scientists, my home will not recover in lifetime, a very sad thought indeed.
The best I can hope for at this point is to make it better for future generations and hope that the rest of the world can learn from this disaster. In the meantime, I will continue to be a voice for my beloved gulf home.
Lamar Billups is a life long resident of the gulf coast and member of project gulf impact.