Some people just like to complain. Complain, complain, complain! What's a little discomfort when it comes to helping the oil companies continue their great American success story? This toxicologist is just trying to stir up trouble:
Nicholas Forte has spent the last year with an array of health issues. Headaches. Migraines. Nausea. Breathing problems so severe they would land him in the hospital.
“We have no idea what it is,” the 22-year-old Battle Creek resident told Michigan Messenger. “Then it escalated to seizures.”
And while the seizures landed him in the hospital — at one point stopping his heart and his breathing — doctors are at a loss to understand why. Tests indicate none of the expected patterns for epilepsy.
Finding out why the formerly healthy young man had suddenly fallen ill drove him and his family to listen to Riki Ott, an environmental toxicologist who has been tracking the health impacts of oil spills on human beings since her home was impacted by the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska. Ott was in Battle Creek Wednesday night at the invitation of local activists.
And when Forte asked Ott about his symptoms, she nodded an affirmative.
“We see that in 16-year olds in the Gulf,” she said. And Forte was not the only person she may have given much needed answers to. Nearly 50 people gathered to talk about headaches, nausea, burning eyes, memory loss and rashes. There were young and old, African-Americans and whites, rural residents and city dwellers, all with one thing in common — they live by the Kalamazoo River and were exposed to last year’s Enbridge Energy Partners Lakehead Pipeline 6B.
For Ott, it was a litany list of symptoms and voices of frustration she has heard from Alaska to South Korea to the Gulf Coast and now in Calhoun county. And Calhoun, she says, represents exposures to both tar sands and lighter oils, each with its own chemical make ups and attendant toxins.
“You’ve got the worst of two worlds. You’re getting a fully double whammy,” she says of the Cold Lake Crude Oil. “Peoples’ health problems (from the Enbridge spill) are identical to the Gulf.”
Ott says that studies about health impacts conducted by health officials since last summer are based on 40-year old science.
“We used to be able to use a thermometer and say, ‘yep, you’ve got a fever,’ but we didn’t have an understanding of how that worked on a cellular level,” she said. “Now, we have the tools and the ability to see how these chemicals impact us on a cellular level.”
Ott noted that just this July a peer-reviewed study of oil spill exposure found the same set of symptoms in each location. They are the identical to the ones being seen in Calhoun county. She also noted that the studies have begun to identify toxicity to DNA, as well as reproductive health impacts. She says many of the chemicals of concern to occupational and environmental health officials have been shown to impact fetuses in the first trimester.