Clean-up effort is damaging the Gulf

Vast numbers of vehicles and volunteers, chemical dispersants and quick fixes are causing lasting da

The environmental damage of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has been well documented. Every news report on the subject is accompanied by heart-rending images of pelicans and other native creatures struggling to move under the weight of the oil slick that suffocates them. And we are now familiar with the oil-drenched landscape of the Louisiana marshes in a way that we could never have been while they were still pristine.

But it emerges that the clean-up techniques being deployed to try to combat the effects of the oil could be causing more harm than good. Earlier on in the clean-up effort, doubts were raised about the toxic nature of the chemical agents being sprayed in the area, especially in the case of an untried deepwater technique in which chemical dispersants were released underwater.

Scientists and fishermen alike were concerned that the vast quantities of the chemical Corexit 9500 pumped to the seabed could only damage the sealife of the region, as well as consitutiting a health risk to the thousands of volunteers working to clear the oil from the area.

However, the Associated Press now reports that there are further problems being caused by the clean-up effort, which has assembled 5,600 vessels in the area. The reporter Cain Burdeau observes:

Hordes of helicopters, bulldozers, army trucks, ATVs, barges, dredges, airboats, workboats, clean-up crews, media, scientists and volunteers have descended on the beaches, blue waters and golden marshes of the Gulf Coast.

As well as the harmful level of traffic and the chemical dispersants, the report highlights the "untested sand islands" now being erected on the orders of the Louisiana state governor, Bobby Jindal. However, besides preventing the oil slicks from reaching the shore, these barriers can also "interrupt shrimp and fish migrations as well as tidal flows; the work can even undermine what little is left of Louisiana's gooey and sediment-layered shoreline", according to the report.

The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has become more than a terrible ecological disaster; it is now a political problem of the highest magnitude. And it would seem that, in the rush to be seen to be "doing something", federal and state agencies alike are potentially causing severe long-term damage to the area.

Nonetheless, with the US midterm elections looming, short-term action, with its reassuring accompaniment of short-term political gain, remains the favoured course of action.

Caroline Crampton is assistant editor of the New Statesman. She writes a weekly podcast column.

Photo: André Spicer
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“It’s scary to do it again”: the five-year-old fined £150 for running a lemonade stand

Enforcement officers penalised a child selling home-made lemonade in the street. Her father tells the full story. 

It was a lively Saturday afternoon in east London’s Mile End. Groups of people streamed through residential streets on their way to a music festival in the local park; booming bass could be heard from the surrounding houses.

One five-year-old girl who lived in the area had an idea. She had been to her school’s summer fête recently and looked longingly at the stalls. She loved the idea of setting up her own stall, and today was a good day for it.

“She eventually came round to the idea of selling lemonade,” her father André Spicer tells me. So he and his daughter went to their local shop to buy some lemons. They mixed a few jugs of lemonade, the girl made a fetching A4 sign with some lemons drawn on it – 50p for a small cup, £1 for a large – and they carried a table from home to the end of their road. 

“People suddenly started coming up and buying stuff, pretty quickly, and they were very happy,” Spicer recalls. “People looked overjoyed at this cute little girl on the side of the road – community feel and all that sort of stuff.”

But the heart-warming scene was soon interrupted. After about half an hour of what Spicer describes as “brisk” trade – his daughter’s recipe secret was some mint and a little bit of cucumber, for a “bit of a British touch” – four enforcement officers came striding up to the stand.

Three were in uniform, and one was in plain clothes. One uniformed officer turned the camera on his vest on, and began reciting a legal script at the weeping five-year-old.

“You’re trading without a licence, pursuant to x, y, z act and blah dah dah dah, really going through a script,” Spicer tells me, saying they showed no compassion for his daughter. “This is my job, I’m doing it and that’s it, basically.”

The girl burst into tears the moment they arrived.

“Officials have some degree of intimidation. I’m a grown adult, so I wasn’t super intimidated, but I was a bit shocked,” says Spicer. “But my daughter was intimidated. She started crying straight away.”

As they continued to recite their legalese, her father picked her up to try to comfort her – but that didn’t stop the officers giving her stall a £150 fine and handing them a penalty notice. “TRADING WITHOUT LICENCE,” it screamed.


Picture: André Spicer

“She was crying and repeating, ‘I’ve done a bad thing’,” says Spicer. “As we walked home, I had to try and convince her that it wasn’t her, it wasn’t her fault. It wasn’t her who had done something bad.”

She cried all the way home, and it wasn’t until she watched her favourite film, Brave, that she calmed down. It was then that Spicer suggested next time they would “do it all correctly”, get a permit, and set up another stand.

“No, I don’t want to, it’s a bit scary to do it again,” she replied. Her father hopes that “she’ll be able to get over it”, and that her enterprising spirit will return.

The Council has since apologised and cancelled the fine, and called on its officials to “show common sense and to use their powers sensibly”.

But Spicer felt “there’s a bigger principle here”, and wrote a piece for the Telegraph arguing that children in modern Britain are too restricted.

He would “absolutely” encourage his daughter to set up another stall, and “I’d encourage other people to go and do it as well. It’s a great way to spend a bit of time with the kids in the holidays, and they might learn something.”

A fitting reminder of the great life lesson: when life gives you a fixed penalty notice, make lemonade.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.