Hernando County residents come together to talk about the oil spill

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A town hall community meeting of sorts occurred Wednesday afternoon at R Beach Restaurant in Hernando County. To a crowd of approximately 30 people, marine biologist Dr. Riki Ott (pictured right) spoke with residents and fishermen about the oil spill crisis.

Ott spoke about her experiences with the Exxon Mobil Valdez spill and related her learned knowledge to this new oil spill disaster going on in the gulf.

“This is a mini exercise in common sense. You are going to hear stuff that is not going to make sense. If it doesn’t make sense, don’t believe it,” Ott said. “I’ve never seen so many PhD scientists sell out to Exxon. There were contracts on the whole west coast.”

Ott traveled to Hernando to speak with the local fishermen and residents because of Kathryn Birren who has spokeswomen for the local seafood businesses in the area. Birren has a personal tie to the industry; her husband and family are second-generation fishermen. To them, fishing is a way of life and this oil spill has created a halt in their lives.

“This is affecting all of us. We are all a part of this,” Birren said.

An unnamed fisherman from Aripeka said that he’s been seeing deepwater fish swimming into the more shallow waters. He also said that he has been seeing turtles and dolphins he normally wouldn’t see. He relates this all to the oil spill that is starting to encroach onto our shores.

Regional Director of Senator Bill Nelson Shahra Anderson also spoke briefly to the crowd about what Senator Nelson is doing to try and lessen the impact on our gulf shores. Anderson said that as of Tuesday, FEMA has prepared an evacuation plan for Floridians should the spill continue to come downward to the bay area’s shores.

Anderson also said that anyone with concerns or comments should to contact Sen. Nelson’s office.

A topic heavily discussed by Ott was the health side effects from the oil spill. She said that everyone should to take extra care of themselves with dietary supplements if they are exposed to the oil whether it is through direct contact or from the air. Ott said that symptoms associated with exposure include: headaches, nausea, dizziness, skin rashes and blisters on skin that had direct contact.

Ott also talked about money that was raised to purchase respirators for BP workers but when BP had found out about it, they threatened workers with their jobs if they wore them.

“It’s because the oil companies don’t want oil declared a hazardous substance,” she said.  “I don’t think the industry wants the stigma of respirators.”

Ott said that OSHA didn’t require workers to wear respirators. When she had found out about this, Ott wrote a letter to them and a week later OSHA changed the policy and now they have become required.

Pat Saisi and Maureen Scully, both 64 and retired, were also at the meeting. Both of them live in Weeki Wachee and feel that the oil spill is affecting more than just the fishing industry.

“It’s not just the fishermen. It’s everyone,” Scully said. “It my not affect us personally, but it affects those we love.”

“To just to sit back and see this is going to affect Florida, this is going to affect all of the gulf states, it will affect the entire national economy eventually,” Saisi said.  “It’s going to trickle down to everything. Every time I see something about it, I just feel so incredibly impotent. “

Steve Reis, 43, a Tarpon Springs resident who owns a wholesale fish house and a restaurant. Reis credits Ott with local fishermen banding together to help one another during this hard time.

“This is family. This is a family operation. The perception is the biggest fight we have right now. The perception is that every fish coming from the gulf is bad,” Reis said.

To contact Senator Bill Nelson’s office, call (813) 225-7040 or email Shahra Anderson at [email protected]. For more information about Dr. Riki Ott or to contact her, visit her website.

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