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October 18, 2011

PTSD in Oil Rig Explosion Survivors

Offshore drilling2Thousands of gallons spewed per day. Hundreds of miles of affected coastline. Dollars of tourism revenue lost. Multitudes of wildlife debilitated. In the weeks and months following the BP oil disaster of 2010, an abundance of measurements emerged designed to provide estimates of the total losses of the disaster. Many media outlets provided excellent coverage of the catastrophe, and environmental scientists worked tirelessly to gather data and numbers that would illuminate what to expect in the coming months and years.

Unfortunately, the personal trauma of rig explosion survivors cannot be ascribed any such metric. How does one quantify the emotional pain of those who watched their friends and coworkers die in the fires of a horrific explosion? Tears shed? Psychiatric visits sought? Number of sleepless nights from reoccurring nightmares? None of these would come close to capturing the long-term pain survivors of the Deepwater Horizon explosion must face. All that we have are anecdotal footprints of a day that will last a lifetime for many.

MSNBC posted an article chronicling the emotional toll survivors of the blast have dealt with. Readers are introduced to Paula Walker, a 56-year old laundry worker who survived the blast and has since experienced dilapidating flashbacks where she feels like she is on the exploding rig again. Also present was Carl Taylor, a 62-year old retired firefighter who was working on the Deepwater Horizon as a radio operator when it blew up. Taylor says he spends many days trying to forget the horrors of the disaster and has been mostly unsuccessful. Both Walker and Taylor have been diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), as have many other survivors.

PTSD can have wide-ranging levels of severity, depending on the patient. A diagnosed individual may deal with flashbacks, nightmares, and avoidance patterns in regards to foreseen triggers of remembrance. Many survivors would never consider going out on the Gulf again, let alone a rig. If ignored, PTSD has been shown to lead to substance abuse and suicide in some individuals. The article opines that as a nation we must consider costs of all kind, and remember that the though the well may be capped, emotional damages continue to pollute the lives of survivors. Read more here.

-- Charley Gaber, Sierra Club Louisiana Intern

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