7. Out of Sight, Out of Mind

Ripple Podcast

7. Out of Sight, Out of Mind

A central figure from 2010 takes legal action against the EPA.

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Cold Open

Dan Leone (host): 

I had been on the Gulf for weeks listening to coastal residents. Listening to their version of the Deepwater Horizon story. And if their version was a song, these words would be the chorus: 

[Sound designed sequence]

Billy Nungesser:

Out of sight, out of mind.

Out of sight, out of mind.

Caleb Breaux:

Outta sight outta mind.

It was the refrain of my trip – it echoed from interview to interview. I heard it in Barataria Bay.

Tracy Kuhns:

It's outta sight, outta mind.

I heard it from Mike on Company Canal.

Mike Arcenaux:

Out of sight, out of mind.

And Norman –

Norman Luke Billiard Jr:

I mean yeah, it's out of sight and out of mind.

“Out of sight, out of mind” is a shorthand. It seems to sum up what these folks now – in the present day – believe about BP and the federal government's approach to cleaning up the spill.

It's their answer to the question: Why was Corexit used?

From Western Sound and APM Studios, I’m Dan Leone.

This is Ripple.


Maybe the most unexpected place I heard the words “out of sight, out of mind” was in the office of a state politician.

Billy Nungesser:

I'm, uh, Billy Nungesser, and I'm Lieutenant Governor of the great state of Louisiana.

If the BP oil spill hadn’t happened, Billy Nungesser might not be Louisiana’s Lieutenant Governor. His political career took off due in part to his efforts in the aftermath of the spill.

Louisiana doesn't have counties. It has parishes. Back in 2010, Nungesser was parish president of Plaquemines Parish.   

And he remembers the exact moment he learned about the blowout. His mind went to Venice, an unincorporated town not far from the southernmost tip of Louisiana.

Billy Nungesser:
I was at home when I got the call. And, uh, so I called Venice to, uh, see what we could do to assist and, uh, couldn't, uh, get an answer. So I drove down to Venice that night and could see the glow in the sky.

So you saw the fire?

Billy Nungesser:

Nungesser had some experience in cleaning oil from marshes, because crude would sometimes wash up after thunderstorms. There's a lot of oil drilling in the Gulf. So small amounts of oil in the water isn't uncommon. 

Billy Nungesser:

After every thunderstorm the oil would appear along the shore, and the [unclear] fish would be stuck in that oil. So at first light, those pelicans and those birds would start diving for those fish. It was a magnet and they'd get covered in oil and die.

Nungesser and other locals would use shop vacs to suck up the oil so pelicans wouldn't get stuck. And they tried to do the same thing during the BP spill.

Billy Nungesser:

We went out and vacuumed up that oil along the shore. Volunteers. We were shut down. Pulled all the boats in, inspected for life jackets, registration. Shut us down for three days and watched hundreds of birds die because they wanted to stop us from picking up that oil. Couldn't understand that.

Nungesser says the Coast Guard put a stop to the volunteer efforts over concerns about them needing life jackets and fire extinguishers, but he didn't want to stop using the shop vacs – he wanted to scale up this method. 

Billy Nungesser:

And then we asked for these jack up boats.

Jack up boats have these long legs which stabilize the vessel and then lift it above sea level. Just imagine a square platform on stilts hovering above the water.

Nungesser wanted to put crews on these boats with boom to trap the oil, and vacuum equipment to suction it up.

Billy Nungesser:

Uh, we were told no many times.

Nungesser says the Coast Guard and BP opposed his plan, so he decided to play the media a bit. He got himself on CNN, and night after night, stood beside Anderson Cooper, and threw shade at the authorities. He publicly called for one of Unified Command's leaders – Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allan – to resign.

Nungesser wanted to get the attention of President Obama. Eventually, he did. Nungesser was allowed into a meeting at a Unified Command station:

Billy Nungesser:

The President walked in and said, “Billy, you've been pretty upset on TV.” He said, “I thought we on the same team.” I said, “We are Mr. President.”

He says, “Well, what, what do you, what do you want to do?” I said, “We wanna put these jack up boats out there.”

According to Nungesser, it’s President Obama who instructed Thad Allan to move ahead with his jack up boats.

Billy Nungesser:

Before he left and he looked back, he said, “Now we're okay, Billy?” I said, “Yeah, Mr. President, we're okay.” He said, “Well, call me before you call Anderson Cooper.”

Nungesser says his jack up boat plan didn't move forward like he'd hoped.

Billy Nungesser:
Now we got three of 'em set up. And as we tried to find the other jack up boats, we heard the Coast Guard had leased them all, but they wasn't putting them to work. Why?

Nungesser doesn’t know why. But there’s some important context to know for what was going on here. He wasn’t the only person with proposals for cleaning up the spill.

In 2010, BP actually launched a crowdsourcing effort – seeking ideas from the public.

And pitches started pouring in.

Even the actor Kevin Costner got in on the action. 

Kevin Costner:
I believe this machine made over 12 years ago with all the care and science and money that I could throw at it is one major solve in this giant puzzle that will get people back to work.

This is Costner giving testimony before a congressional hearing. The machine he's pitching was built by a company he owned. It was designed to separate oil from water, but – critically – the oil could still be sold afterwards. 

Kevin Costner:

It may seem an unlikely scenario that I'm the one delivering this technology at this moment in time, but from where I'm sitting, it is equally inconceivable that these machines are not already in place.

BP saw fit to purchase 32 of Costner's company's machines for 52 million dollars. But there are conflicting reports about whether or not they were ever used.

Some reports from the time say they weren't used because they didn't work. Some say they weren't used because by the time the machines got to the Gulf, the oil was already dispersed.

In all, Unified Command received around 123,000 proposals in just a few weeks.

Brent Massey:

This guy said, “Oh well, you've got a, uh, oil on the water…” 

Retired Search and Rescue Coastguardsman Brent Massey – the man who helped coordinate the search for the missing crewmen after the blowout – recalled getting some ideas from the public.

Brent Massey:

“Well, here's what you do. I just did this in my kitchen. I had a bucket and I had water in it, and I dropped a sponge in it, and the sponge absorbed all the oil. So all you have to do is just go out there and, you know, drop a bunch of sponges, and it'll absorb all the oil.” It's like, oh my gosh, you know, like, you don't understand the scope of this [laughs].

So maybe Nungesser’s jack up boat plan wasn’t a good idea. Or maybe it was, and it was just lost in a sea of other proposals that weren’t worth considering. It’s hard to know.

But to Nungesser, BP and the authorities' response to the spill fell short.  

Billy Nungesser:
A lot of promises were made in public and we got out there. Nothing we talked about ever happened. 

It was obvious they did not want to use anything outside of their plan. 

And their plan largely involved Corexit. Dispersants. Nearly two million gallons of dispersants. 

Billy Nungesser:
I truly believe that was done cuz “outta sight outta mind.” They didn't want you to see that oil. How do you sink it and then clean it up?

In 2010, Unified Command was in this serious predicament. Incredible amounts of oil were surging towards coastlines. And oil reaching coastlines could have severe and long lasting consequences. So it was a legitimate priority to prevent as much oil as possible from washing up on shore. And this is one reason why Unified Command said they were deploying dispersants: to save coastlines.

But the way dispersants accomplish this was another point of contention between Unified Command and many coastal residents. 

Corexit was advertised to the public as a chemical that would break up oil into smaller droplets which would then be diluted, or biodegraded, or consumed by microbes.

As part of that process, droplets of oil would disappear from the surface of the ocean and fall into the water column below.

Nungesser and many of the coastal residents I spoke to believe this function was a primary draw of using Corexit. Here's Mike Arcenaux from Company Canal:  

Mike Arcenaux:
You know cause when BP came in, they dispersed the oil, dispersing it, they sunk it.

And former cleanup worker Caleb Breaux: 

Caleb Breaux:
I think with dispersant, what it was doing, it would sink it. So to me, outta sight outta mind.  

Many coastal residents I spoke to believe BP used dispersants in such large amounts not only to protect shorelines, but also to protect their public image, to make the spill appear less severe than it was.

And remember, Corexit wasn't only sprayed on the surface of the ocean. Unified Command also lowered a giant pipe to the bottom of the ocean and pumped thousands of gallons directly into the leaking wellhead. A method that had never been attempted at a depth of 5,000 feet.

So all this spraying of Corexit caused real friction between BP and many who made their living in the fishing industry. I've got a piece of audio that illustrates this friction – an argument from 2010, between a BP rep and a shrimp buyer.

BP Representative:

We do want to clean up this oil. Someone is gonna have to explain to me why BP would not want to clean up this oil. 

Dean Blanchard:
Why? Because it’s more cost effective for y'all to come in at night and sink the son of a bitch. When the oil’s coming around, y'all send the plane and y'all fucking sink it. That's what y'all doing. Come on man. Let's quit playing over here and tell the truth. What you think? We stupid? We not stupid. Y'all putting up, y'all putting oil on the bottom of our fishing grounds. Y'all not only messing me up now – y'all messing me up for the rest of my life.

Betsy Shepherd, Ripple’s senior reporter, and I were both struck by how furious this man sounded.

We were curious to know how this man's fishing grounds had been impacted over the last decade.

So we did some digging, and figured out who he was.

[Dean Blanchard scene: audio fades in]

His name’s Dean Blanchard. He’s a shrimp buyer. Betsy got a tour of his shrimp processing facility in Grand Isle, Louisiana. Boats drive up, drop off their shrimp, Dean buys 'em, processes 'em, ships them to local restaurants, and elsewhere. 

Betsy Shepherd:

Can you just – can you describe what we're looking at right now? The water, where are we?

Dean Blanchard:
We’re in, that’s what's called Bayou Rigaud. You see these boats across, that's from the hurricane, they ended up over there. They still never picked them up yet, but… 

Like a lot of places in south Louisiana, you see sunken boats in Grand Isle. Abandoned casualties of hurricanes. 

Betsy Shepherd:
That's not one of your boats, huh? Right there, that's underwater.

Dean Blanchard:
No, that wasn't mine. None of them's my boats. The last boat I had, my fishing boat, my sport fishing boat, the house fell on it from the hurricane [laughs]. 

There are people who have moved on from the oil spill. 13 years removed, they’ve grieved, they’ve calmed down, they’re not as angry about it anymore. Dean Blanchard doesn't seem like one of those people. 

Dean Blanchard:
When I realized they didn't want to pick up the oil and I really got mad. You know, I mean, we wanted them to pick up the oil. I mean, hey, you made the mess. Clean up your fricking mess. That's simple, you know? I mean, y'all got the money, clean it up. But then it just don't look good. You know, out of sight, out of of mind. Put it on the bottom, sink it. And once we realized it was sinking it on our fishing grounds, I mean, why would you take something that's on top of the water and put it on the bottom of the ocean where all life begins, you know? So we knew right then and there we had a serious problem.

Dean's fear in 2010 was that the dispersed oil would sink all the way to the bottom of his fishing grounds.

He explained to Betsy why he thought this possibility was so threatening to his livelihood. 

Dean Blanchard:
The shrimp got to be able to bury to hide, I mean to protect himself. So he's not gonna get, he's not gonna go somewhere where he can't bury and protect himself.

Shrimp hang out at the bottom of the ocean – they prefer areas with soft mud and sand rich with organic matter. And they like to hide in the sand when they feel threatened. 

Dean Blanchard:

You know, the shrimp just quit coming. They quit coming. They go to places where they got a better chance of surviving. 

Dean thinks the shrimp that didn’t die – left. 

Dean Blanchard:
It was poisoned. You know, nothing's gonna go where it's poisoned. You know, animals got something in 'em that they know when something's wrong, you know. If you got a tsunami coming, the animals run first. If you see the animals running, you better run too. You know? I mean, they just know. That's mother nature.

But Dean says his shrimp business eventually started recovering.   

Dean Blanchard:
Last year was the best year we had since the spill. We probably did 65%.

Dean reports getting 65% of the shrimp yields he would get before the oil spill. So what caused the improvement? He credits nature. 

Dean Blanchard:
The hurricanes cleaned up some stuff and you know, that's what we need. We need hurricanes to come in there and clean it up. It's a shame to say that you gotta destroy all your buildings and your houses and all, but to get the shrimp to come back and clean up the bottom and you gotta have a big, big wave action. We need about three or four more hurricanes and maybe it'll be cleaned up by then. 

Though shrimp yields have improved, according to Dean, not everything has. Some species of fish have never come back. 

Dean Blanchard:
For 30 years, I bought fish over here in the winter time, 30 years straight. We had so much fish. We had to stop the boats from catching fish. The last 10 years, we ain't got none. No more. So whose fault is it? I blame BP. I don't blame BP. I blame the United States government for allowing BP to do what they did. 

I hear a lot nowadays about the erosion of trust in institutions. How dangerous this is. How destabilizing it is for American society. 

Dean Blanchard:
I ain't got much use for the government. I'm gonna tell you that right now. I mean, it's a joke. It's a joke. Politicians are a joke, governments are a joke. 

It’s rare that I hear someone pinpoint exactly how they lost this trust.

Betsy Shepherd:
Did you always feel that way or was this like –

Dean Blanchard:
Oh no, I used to be proud to be American until I seen what BP got away with. The one that messed everything up is in charge. I mean, I lost all respect for the government after that.  

Government wasn’t the only institution Dean lost faith in.

Dean Blanchard:
Scientists got all that money and everything was going to be all right and all that. That's bullshit. That's bullshit. I mean, I ain't got no use for scientists neither. I mean, they just lie straight to your face. It's money. It's all money. Everybody's worried about money. Nobody could tell the truth.

One truth from Dean's perspective is what he sees happening to his community.   

Dean Blanchard:
I'm telling you, people are dying over here. I'm not no doctor and I can't prove it, but I mean, I'm watching people that – too many people's dying. It's not right. It's not right. I can tell you that. It's not right.

When I listen to Dean talk about his crisis of trust in institutions, then I listen to figures within those same institutions lamenting the crises, I’m reminded of this lesson my father tried to instill in me as a kid – this phrase he would often repeat – “trust is earned.”   

It’s estimated that 200 million gallons of crude oil spilled into the Gulf in 2010. And that only between 17% and 25% of that was recovered. As for the rest? Some of that still remains on the seafloor today. There isn’t a consensus on the exact amount.

We’ll be right back.


Richard Nixon:

Each of us all across this great land has a stake in maintaining and improving environmental quality.

We're all governed by thousands of these obscure policies, regulations, rules, and laws.

Richard Nixon:

Clean air and clean water, the wise use of our land, the protection of wildlife and natural beauty. Parks for all to enjoy. These are part of the birthright of every American.

A lot of environmental laws that promote these ideas are written, put on the books, and then they languish, for years, without being updated.

Sometimes we don't become aware of these obscure, antiquated laws – until we’re in trouble.

Richard Nixon:

18 of the major environmental proposals, which I put forward a year ago, has still not received final action by the Congress.

President Richard Nixon established the Environmental Protection Agency through executive order in 1970. He did this partly out of frustration. Critical laws regulating water pollution hadn’t been updated since 1948. He chastised Congress for not taking action.

Richard Nixon:

The environmental agenda now before the Congress includes laws to deal with water pollution, pesticide hazards, ocean dumping, excessive noise, and many other environmental problems. These problems will not stand still for politics or for partisanship.

And Nixon got results. In 1972, Congress passed an important law called the Clean Water Act. Under that law, the EPA was required to create an obscure piece of regulation called the National Contingency Plan. A set of guidelines to follow in the event of a toxic spill.

Post Deepwater, millions of coastal residents' lives and livelihoods were at the mercy of this obscure EPA policy.

Rikki Ott:

The Contingency Plan [laughs], the friggin’ Contingency Plan.

Marine toxicologist Rikki Ott had lived through the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill, which ravaged her small village in Alaska. In 1994, the EPA updated the NCP to reflect the lessons learned from that spill. 

Rikki Ott:

EPA is the keeper of the National Contingency Plan, which is our nation's emergency response plan on oil spill and chemical disasters.

After the BP oil spill, the largest oil spill in US history, Rikki Ott expected the EPA to update the National Contingency Plan, as they did after Exxon Valdez. 

Claudia Polsky:
Pressure started as it often does at a political level.

This is Claudia Polsky. She’s a clinical professor of law at UC Berkeley Law School, where she directs their Environmental Law Clinic. Her role in all of this will become clear in a minute. 

Claudia Polsky:

Dr. Riki Ott, petitioned the US EPA and presented all this evidence for why the 1994 plan was out of date. She wrote this in 2012. And then EPA proceeded to do… nothing.

Riki Ott waited for action on the petition for two full years, and still, no update to the NCP. So in 2014 – 

Claudia Polsky:
She went back to EPA with an even broader petition. And then EPA proceeded to do… nothing.

EPA still failed to update the NCP, but there was some movement. In 2015, under the Obama Administration, the EPA issued some proposed changes to the plan, but they never finalized them.

Claudia Polsky:
The clearest explanation is that the administration changed to the Trump 

Administration, and with that, everything went in a completely deregulatory pro-oil exploration direction.

And then, Rikki Ott was fed up.

Rikki Ott:

The EPA has not updated the rules governing dispersant use since, um, uh, well, it's, we're going on 28 years right now. Now think about it. How would you like to be assured and rest, sleep at night in your home knowing that your fire, local fire department emergency plan and all their technology is 28 years old?

Right? It's just not a good idea.

So, Rikki got herself a lawyer. And that lawyer was Claudia Polsky.

Claudia Polsky:
Frustrated, Dr. Ott assembled a coalition and found our law clinic and said, “We think we really need to sue EPA for not acting on our petitions.”

In 2020, Rikki and Claudia sued the EPA on two grounds. Number one, they said the EPA was in violation of that Clean Water Act that Nixon got passed. Under the Clean Water Act, regulations need to stay current to protect the public from harm.    

Claudia Polsky:
There's a facetious but pretty accurate thing that we say in the law sometimes, which is: “If you don't have the facts, pound the law. If you don't have the law, pound the facts. And if you don't have either, pound the table.” And in this case, EPA really does not have the facts on its side.

EPA itself had acknowledged how much harm there was. We have Inspector General reports talking about how important it is to update the National Contingency plan because it proved a failure in Deepwater Horizon. So they really didn't have the facts. 

It's very clear that the 1970s Congress that drafted the Clean Water Act would never have imagined that it was authorizing EPA to just sit on a decades-old plan after the biggest oil spill in US history and its catastrophic response. And the judge said, under those circumstances, EPA has effectively decided it is appropriate to update the plan. It just hasn't done it. 

According to the judge, the EPA was illegally violating the Clean Water Act. The judge also said that legally, EPA couldn’t just ignore concerned citizens — it didn't sufficiently respond to Riki’s petitions. 

Claudia Polsky:
So the judge said, “EPA, what you did was illegal on two grounds. You didn't update this plan that you admitted needed to be updated, and the Clean Water Act says you must, and you essentially let get moldy these two citizen petitions rather than showing them the dignity of issuing them an answer within a reasonable amount of time.”

Moving legislation in America is a marathon, not a sprint. 

After a decade of effort, Rikki Ott’s pressure campaign on the EPA was successful.  

Claudia Polsky:
So EPA was put on a court ordered timeframe. The judge said that by May 2023, EPA would be required to update the National Contingency Plan. 

At the time I interviewed Claudia in early 2023, the EPA hadn’t issued their update yet. Neither she, nor I, knew for sure what they would ultimately decide. And the range of outcomes was vast. 

Let's imagine we live in a perfect world, which we clearly don't. But, um, what would be your best case daydream scenario here?

Claudia Polsky:
Well, here I'm channeling my clients because I, I really am trying to give voice to their desires, but they have made very plain that they would like an end to the use of chemical dispersants.

Their best case scenario would be for the EPA to ban or seriously limit the use of Corexit, and all dispersants.

But there's one problem with banning dispersants. There are no surefire mechanical methods to clean a spill the size of Deepwater. There wasn't in 2010, and there still isn't today.

So short of a ban, they’d like to see significant geographic restrictions on the use of dispersants and dispersants subjected to much more rigorous testing… 

Claudia Polsky:
A big theme is that the NCP requires very little in the way of toxicity testing of products before they come to market. There's very little pre-market testing required to determine will these things kill people?

I mean, in Deepwater Horizon, which was the biggest domestic use of dispersant chemicals ever, you're talking about somewhere between one and two million gallons of dispersant chemicals alone that were used. And that is equivalent to the sixth largest oil spill in US history by volume. So you're talking about just a massive amount of chemical use, you know, something that almost feels like chemical warfare on the ocean and coastal inhabitants. And so that's something that was legal under the NCP, and that's what our clients wanna change. So we're waiting to see what EPA does.

Claudia's worst case scenario would be essentially ornamental changes to the NCP, leaving intact the same guidelines that led to confusion and calamity in 2010.

[Music transitions]

Interestingly, Claudia believes that although they’ve scored a key legal victory against the EPA, the legal battle is only part of the fight. 

Claudia Polsky:
The legal system can only get you so far. And what litigation really does, that’s ultimately probably more valuable, is provide a way of telling a story and creating issue awareness and a discrete set of events. You know, you file a case and that's a news event, and you get a ruling and that's an event, and then an agency has to do something and it does it, and that's a news event. And every one of these opportunities to educate the public and to educate elected officials is really what ultimately makes system change. It's not usually just what happens in the courtroom.

Hearing this, it struck me that 13 years after the blowout, there was still a fight to control the Deepwater Horizon story.  

Claudia was giving interviews to people like me in hopes of pushing that story, and all its victims, back into the public consciousness. She wanted as much scrutiny and pressure as possible on the EPA as it weighed its decision.

The EPA, through its decade of inaction, demonstrated that perhaps they would have preferred this story, and all those who lived it, be forgotten. 

We'll be right back. 


[Scene ambi: walking on dock, or walking on New Orleans street]

By late April of 2023, it was just about time for me to leave the Gulf.

In those days, I caught myself thinking a lot about what the EPA's decision was ultimately going to be. I wondered if Rikki Ott was gonna get what she wanted out of 'em. 

It occurred to me that if she did, it would be one of the few victories I'd heard about on the Gulf. Damn near every story I heard was about loss in one way or another. And each person I talked to had their own way of handling that loss.  

You've had a lot of tragedy in your life, and I'm wondering, you know, if you can maybe take me through how you have survived these many things that you've gone through without losing your damn mind.

Sheree Kerner:
Well, first of all, trivial can't, can’t be brought to my attention, you know.

This is Sheree Kerner – you heard from her in an earlier episode. Her husband, Frank Stuart, worked on the cleanup and died in 2018 of acute myeloid leukemia. 

Sheree Kerner:
I donno – it's probably kinda like a doctor, you know, ends up getting a little callous. A little tougher. It just makes you resilient because there isn't really any other choice.

Did you and Frank ever have a conversation near the end about how he was feeling? Was he preparing himself? Was he, was he loving? You know, what was he thinking towards the end?

Sheree Kerner:
Well, he um, Frank wasn't a cat person, and I had a cat that had shown up. She was a little kitten in the backyard. So I started feeding her and he would scat at her to try to chase her away, because he didn't want her to come in the house. So after he realized that, he accepted that, you know, he was going to die, he said, “Well, I guess the cat's coming in the house.” [laughs] So…you betcha.

After Frank’s death, Sheree launched “Disappearing Victims” – an awareness raising campaign to shine a light on the deteriorating health of cleanup workers. That mission continues. 

[Music changes tone]

Joey Yerkes, a cleanup worker from Destin, Florida, who you’ve heard from several times, had fallen seriously ill in late 2010. And he was faced with a very American predicament.  

Joey Yerkes:
I had to make a decision as a father.

Medical bills were rapidly piling up. So on one hand, he could continue with expensive treatments and hopefully save his own life… 

Joey Yerkes:
So that I can have a chance to spend time with my daughter and see my daughter. Or do I want to just leave all of this money that I made in investments for her, in the bank, whatever it may be, and just let this stuff kill me and then they can have all the money.

Joey believes, in some sense, the decision was made for him.

Joey Yerkes:

… You know, I haven't really…. There's only one other person in the world that I've talked about this with, and that's my daughter. It's really hard for me to talk about too. But when I was really sick, I was in the hospital – I had a moment where I was in the hospital – and that was at my lowest point. I was chemical pneumonia. My cup had runneth over. I was sick. And I went to the emergency room and I was in the hospital. They didn't really know what to do with me, but I was having some heart issues or something. I remember that, and I was kind of in and out of consciousness, right? And I had an experience while I was in the hospital. I'll just leave it at that. And it was enough to really enlighten me. But I knew from that experience, I knew right then at that moment, that it wasn't my time to go. I knew that, I knew then that my purpose was to stay alive for her. That's the moment I knew that. 

Joey continued his treatments. And the two doctors who were seeing him made a recommendation – 

Joey Yerkes:
They both agreed that, you know, at this point, you need to leave the Gulf or you're not going to get better. You know, you're just re-exposing yourself and that kind of thing. So I left. 

Joey had spent decades fishing in the Gulf and was in love with his life on the Emerald Coast in Florida, but his doctors felt that the environment there was too toxic. So Joey moved to a small city in Georgia – about 200 miles away from the ocean.

And there, he slowly recovered and dragged himself out of debt. 

Today, Joey regularly experiences vertigo, tinnitus, and neuropathy, which causes pain and numbness in the limbs. He’s on a lot of medications. He doesn’t sleep much.

Joey is one of some 5,000 people who have individually filed lawsuits against BP seeking compensation for what they believe are oil spill related health problems. 

And your case right now, do you have high hopes for it or no?

Joey Yerkes:
So, I longed for the day that I can sit in front of a jury of my peers. That's been my goal. I want to get up on that stand, and I want to sit in front of a jury of my peers, and I want to try my case in a court of law. I know I can win. But I don't think it's ever going to get to that. I really don't.

Joey’s case is now pending.

Caleb Breaux, a former cleanup worker from Louisiana, who was diagnosed with lymphoma five years after the spill, is also waiting for his day in court.  

Caleb Breaux:
I worry about how powerful BP is, how financially powerful they are, how Louisiana is known for those type of politics. Yeah, I hope I'm proven wrong, but I just, with the cases that's been thrown out so far, it worries me. It's just something we're gonna have to deal with. But I just don't want to be ignored by BP and those responsible, you know. I just want our voice to be out there, and I want them to just give us a chance, at least show us that they care a little bit about us as individuals, you know. That's all we ask.

Caleb reports that after many rounds of chemo, he's in remission now. But the strain of lymphoma he has is incurable.

Caleb Breaux:

So it stays in my bloodstream. So it's gonna like, they call it kind of like flare ups. Like if it comes back, you just gotta kind of, you go through it again.

I asked what it's like – living with that knowledge.

Caleb Breaux:

So it's a constant stress. Um, once you get cancer, that's a common occurrence is that you constantly feel like it's back cuz it's an unseen danger. Right? You don't really know. Look, I had it for five years or so in my body and I didn't even realize, like I knew something was wrong, but I didn't realize how severe it was. And that's most people with cancer. A lot of people get diagnosed and it's too late, you know, so you always thinking about it. Um, and one thing it does, it definitely puts life into perspective for sure. Um, you worry about the littlest things when really, you gotta, you, you gotta kind of get rid of those things and you look at what's important in your life. So it brings mortality into perspective for sure.

[Music: Long transition] 

[Scene: Driving]


So I've left Louisiana, and, like Norman on Company Canal predicted, I didn't really want to leave. Betsy took off as well. She's back in California. Um, but I've got one more stop that I want to make before we kind of wrap this trip up because, so a bunch of people sued BP under that backend litigation process, meaning they sued them on their own, separate of the big class action lawsuit. And for a while, I was under the impression that no one had won any of those lawsuits, that no one had gotten any money out of BP. But I've come to learn that that’s not, that's not correct. One of our sources, he got a settlement out of them. So that was a surprise, right? But what's really impressive to me is that he apparently managed to do this with a ninth grade education and by representing himself, so I would very much like to know how he managed to get a settlement out of BP when so many others appear to be losing. And he actually lives kind of near the same mountain range that I live in, uh the Blue Ridge Mountains. I'm on the North Carolina side, and he is on the Tennessee side. So um, yeah, we're Tennessee bound. We got one more stop to make before we wrap this up.