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New Documentary Examines Hidden Human Consequences of America's Oil Dependency

Corexit sprayed from a plane during BP's spill response operations. | Home page image credit: The Rising; main article image credit: Wikipedia

Mark Manning, former oil industry insider and director of acclaimed Iraq war documentaries The Road to Fallujah and Caught in the Crossfire, has turned his lens to another battle taking place in the Gulf, this time on the U.S.’ Gulf Coast. The upcoming feature-length documentary, The Rising, details the devastating effects not only of BP’s Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010, but of the company’s cleanup efforts following the spill and the apparent large-scale cover-up of their health impacts on the coastal communities. 

The film's crowdfunding campaign, now live on Indiegogo, has attracted the support of a long list of organizations including Greenpeace, Global Exchange, Government Accountability Project and more, as well as influential journalists such as Thom Hartmann, who is calling this story “bigger than Agent Orange.”

Unlike the BP disaster, the film argues that the cover-up of the resulting public health disaster is no accident. In an effort to break up and sink the oil that flooded the Gulf after the Deepwater Horizon explosion, millions of gallons of chemical dispersants, including a toxic chemical mix known as Corexit – whose official safety data sheet warns that it causes an “immediate (acute) health hazard” - were sprayed from the air into the water. Scientists and toxicologists now believe that the oil-Corexit combination resulted in up to 52 times greater toxicity than the oil alone. Most spill workers were not provided with all and, in some cases, any of the recommended Personal Protective Equipment. The public and exposed communities were also not informed of the dangers of these substances or how to protect themselves and their families. Meanwhile, the use of Corexit had already been banned or strictly regulated by countries such as the UK due to its toxicity. 

Over the course of six years, The Rising team learned from toxicologists, biologists, medical professionals and community members that the dispersants were sprayed over a five-state area; the public came in contact with the chemicals through cleanup operations, breathing the air, eating the seafood, being in the water and in areas where spraying was occurring overhead.

The film documents a wide range of health effects attributed to Corexit exposure: Children with body rashes, severe asthma attacks and frequent seizures, and losing hair; adults with everything from respiratory distress and skin lesions to debilitating migraines, cardiac episodes, liver failure and various cancers. According to the film, leading toxicologists now estimate that hundreds of thousands of people are chronically ill due to exposure to these chemicals, but the burden of proof is on the people. According to the film, citizens who have attempted to seek treatment for chemical exposure or any ailment that could be associated with the spill and cleanup operations have been turned away or treated as if the symptoms showed no link to an exposure event. Medical practitioners have indicated that they will not diagnose chemical illness in order to avoid litigation.

As Congressman Jerrold Nadler says in the film: “When you put people in a corrosive environment and with the things that this dispersant does, that is an interesting experiment … if you don’t care about the people.” 

After 20 years as an oil field diver, Manning’s understanding of the complexities of offshore oil lends a unique perspective to the story. His Emmy- and Academy Award-winning team includes Reuben Aaronson, producer and director of Amazon Gold; and Mark Monroe, writer of The Cove and Racing Extinction. With the help of crowd-gathered funds, The Rising is scheduled to be released this fall.

"I have worked in the offshore business for 20 years - on well blow-outs and deep water rigs,” Manning said in a statement. “I was not anti-oil, but if it has come to poisoning and killing people to stay on oil then it’s time to find another way. I am not sure what the argument against protecting human health can be.”

Dispersants are in the contingency plan for all U.S. oil spill responses and new offshore leases. Without policy change and a government free from oil industry control, millions could be at great imminent risk.

“Human health is the missing and, arguably, the most important piece to the climate, environmental and energy debates,” a statement on the film asserts. “If human health is top priority, oil operation costs increase appropriately by forcing proper settlements for exposed and ailing populations, and will heavily incentivize increasing amounts of funding and support for alternative energy. An industry forced to protect public health foremost will be forced to protect environmental health. By flipping the dialogue to ‘people first’ the environment will follow, because what is truly healthy for people is healthy for the planet. People will no longer stand to be treated as collateral damage for the oil industry’s war against alternative energy.”

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