JACKSON, MS (WLBT) - Marine toxicologist Dr. Riki Ott worked extensively with people affected by the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska in 1989. The scientist, who is also selling a book, says we don't know nearly enough about the short term and long term health problems created by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. She says hundreds of people along the gulf coast are sick with respiratory illnesses and skin rash.
"Unfortunately, what I've seen and heard are that people are being treated for staph, scabies, heat stroke, food poisoning. I am still talking to people who were sick in May, who are still sick in August. With heat stroke? No, I don't think so," she says. What I'm seeing here is chemical poisoning, a rash of illnesses stemming from this release of oil and dispersant in the gulf, unprecedented amount." Dr. Ott did not claim to know anyone along the gulf who has been specifically diagnosed with an oil spill-related illness.
Speaking as part of a panel at Millsaps College Saturday, she tells us that if she had a family living down there, she would evacuate.
Dr. Ott says even vacationers have come away with peeling hands and skin issues.
Her arguments were countered by state epidemiologist Dr. Paul Byers, who has been comparing the nature of the illnesses charted at coastal hospitals with hospitals further away. He says there's been no major increase in respiratory or rash cases on the coast.
"What we found was a mixture of things, chicken pox or allergic dermatitis for things like poison ivy. We were unable to pull out anything that's specifically oil related," Dr. Byers says.
Dr. Ott is skeptical of those diagnoses. "I'm wondering if the doctors who pledge 'do no more harm', what they're thinking when they prescribe antibiotics for something that's clearly secondary infection from chemical illness," she says.
Dr. Ott recommends the seafood not be eaten.
Dr. Byers, when asked if the shrimp is safe, says he's been eating it himself.
The discussion was put on by the Mississippi Democratic Club.
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