Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Dreams have turned to nightmares for two local women

Dreams have turned to nightmares for two local women

by Bob Morgan, Editor Gulf Coast Newspapers

Pick your poison.

The spewing oil well in the Gulf of Mexico is capped; a months’ long bad situation appears somewhat better; tourism on the Alabama Gulf Coast might conceivably rebound to some degree during the latter half of the Summer of Oil.

Or, the well is capped at present, yes, but like Steven Speilberg’s fictitious Amity Island in the blockbuster movie “Jaws,” dangers lurking in and around the water are being ignored for the sake of salvaging the local economy.

While most South Baldwin residents might opt for and believe in the first story line, two women in Foley insist the second is true. A “Chemical Jaws” is what one calls the ongoing drama of oil in the water and oil on Baldwin’s beaches.

 Indeed, earlier this week Lauren Ragland was putting new tires on her van. She and her family were getting ready to leave their residence of five years on East Myrtle Avenue. Boat, camper and three dogs: They were taking everything, and Ragland called it an “evacuation.”

“We’re evacuating because I’m very concerned. I’m sick; my voice doesn’t normally sound like this,” she said on Tuesday.

 Robyn Hill said she and her husband are too entrenched to pull up stakes and move the way Ragland and her husband and son are doing. She has a mother living in Fairhope for one thing. Hill has been in Foley for two years, having come here from New Orleans. She brought something with her to Foley, namely, black mold in her lungs from cleaning up after Katrina.

“We fell in love with the area because I could breathe so well,” said the 40-year-old Hill on Wednesday.

Now, it’s precisely the air that has both these women at the crossroads.

 “I can smell it. I can feel it,” Ragland said, convinced that local officials and British Petroleum among others haven’t been on the up and up about what’s in the air locally as a result of the massive oil spill in the Gulf.

 “I feel like I have a turtleneck on,” Ragland said, claiming that she has felt the effects of bad air more in Foley than on the beach a dozen miles south, a beach she shares in common with Hill.

Ragland said the oil smell isn’t constant; she notices it every couple of days. Friends of hers in Summerdale, almost to Elberta, smell it too, she said.

Like Ragland, Hill isn’t certain right now where she’s headed, only in a different way. She’s taking steroids and other medications, including nerve pills, to combat what happened to her on that beach. She is on a breathing apparatus as well. By her estimation, she has a couple of good hours a day where breathing is concerned.

According to Hill, Western medicine can’t help her, so the respiratory problem she is battling has clouded her future. Her husband is worried, she said.

“If I find the right people I might can detox myself,” Hill said, meaning that some kind of Eastern remedy might be her only chance to overcome her physical problems.

 Hill’s current difficulties came with the job she had, a job she loved.

 “I’d actually tell people I was the luckiest girl in the world,” she said.

Ragland too speaks of a “dream job.”


Hill, who said she once worked for The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, wanted, in her words, “to work down by the beach” in what she considered this “joyful phase of my life.”

What she did was work in a supervisory capacity for Coastal Security, which contracted with the City of Gulf Shores through Long’s Human Resources.

“We were to be ambassadors for the city,” Hill said, “the face of the city.”

She and the eight or nine security guards under her would answer tourists’ questions, give them directions and be of any help they could, all of it aimed at one result, according to Hill, namely, make the tourists want to come back to Gulf Shores. Not Orange Beach; not Pensacola Beach. Gulf Shores.

She worked at the job she loved for nearly a year. Then, “on a Friday,” the oil came in, she said. You could kind of smell it, Hill recalls, and people were, in her words, “antsy.”

 Hill said Coastal Security was instructed to answer the public’s questions by asking one in return without being overtly evasive. For example, a tourist asks if Hill smells oil. Hill asks the tourist if he or she smells oil. If the tourist doesn’t then there must not be an oil smell.

Hill said people were actually coming up to them and handing them oil, something Coastal Security wasn’t trained to handle.

 “I’d call it in. Things are getting strange; we need some help down here,” Hill recalls saying. The response she would get from the city: “Just don’t say anything.”

  Hill said she was getting headaches; the public was getting headaches; her co-workers were getting headaches.

 “I didn’t know what to tell these people,” Hill said.

By the following Monday, Hill said one member of Coastal Security passed out, another was sweating profusely and another vomiting.

 “They’re complaining, it’s becoming uncomfortable for them physically, and it’s becoming uncomfortable to answer questions from the public,” Hill said. “It got weirder and weirder.”

Hill recounts her own physical decline in the aftermath of the oil’s arrival this way:

 “Monday I’m feeling bad; feeling the same headaches everybody else is feeling.” Coastal Security higher ups tell them heat exhaustion is the culprit, something Hill categorically denies today. She and her people were acclimated to the heat, she insists.

 Tuesday she’s so sick she’s vomiting. She describes it as having the “woozies all day long.” That night she’s “writhing in bed.”

Wednesday, around mid-morning, she can’t breathe and passes out at work.

    “           I could taste the chemical,” Hill recalls, admittedly describing herself as a person with an acute sense of taste and smell. Her systolic blood pressure reading is normally 120, she said. That day it was 158: The local doctor that eventually saw her diagnosed heat exhaustion.

“I was falling over sick and crying,” Hill said.

When she disputed the diagnosis, Hill alleges the doctor told her any other diagnosis would cause a scare and result in the coastal area becoming a ghost town. She wouldn’t want that would she?


 Lauren Ragland calls it a “low security” job she and her husband and son did for BP. Yet, it was a “dream job” by her estimation because it paid each of them $200 a day. For weeks they watched BP employees’ cars. During that time, Ragland said she listened to and talked to a lot of workers and people with BP.

  “I was concerned about what I heard,” she said.

A couple of weeks ago, she started to do some research to find out what was going on with the air. She is quick to point out she isn’t a scientist; that the research she did was a layman’s using such information sources as OSHA’s, EPA’s, CDC’s and the HAZWOPER manual – Hazardous Waste Operation and Emergency Response.

 Ragland describes HAZWOPER as rules and regulations that have been around for 20 years that deal with hazardous materials. The HAZWOPER constitutes the basis of what was taught locally to workers involved in the oil cleanup process, according to Ragland, who tried to call a press conference earlier this week concerning her findings but nobody showed up.

Whatever, Ragland believes all beaches along the Gulf of Mexico should have been closed the second week of June and that based on what she found in the government’s own hazardous materials manuals.

“I find it horrific they can say there is oil and dispersants in the water but they won’t close the beaches,” Ragland said. “I don’t go to the beach anymore because it’s dangerous.

 “I believe the information in OSHA’s own training manual is enough to close the beaches.”

Ragland, who said she has been an activist for a number of causes in the past, alleges there is a “media blackout” taking place the likes of which she has never seen before. That blackout has to do with issues such as air quality and failure to protect oil cleanup workers.

Ragland further alleges coastal cities know the inherent dangers the oil spill has brought to shore but are more concerned about local economies. Hence, the “Chemical Jaws” designation she said applies to the beaches of Lower Alabama.

“So many people know the truth,” Ragland said, noting another story line is the number of people who are sick along Baldwin County roads 12 and 20. That’s the route the oil trucked from Baldwin beaches is taking to Magnolia Landfill.

 Of getting out of Foley, Ragland said, “I don’t feel safe here. It’s disconcerting to feel sick in your own bedroom.”

Asked if she has plans for a lawsuit against the likes of BP, Ragland said no; she doesn’t think anybody will ever get anything out of the corporate giant.

Robyn Hill, on the other hand, is, by her own admission, relegated to “shuffling papers” in Foley now, moved inland from the job she loved and the city where she got married. The move has come, she said, because BP and others fear she might do what Ragland said she isn’t going to do, namely, sue somebody. An hour in the sun now and respiratory problems follow, Hill said.

Asked about the wisdom of going public with her story, Hill said, job notwithstanding, she can’t keep quiet about something this important and dangerous. Ragland feels the same way. She cried while being interviewed for this story when talking about the number of families and children who will be at the beach this weekend.

ITALICIZE—          (Editor’s note. In mid-June Gulf Coast Newspapers contacted state and local officials in connection with an article on Internet rumors concerning coastal air quality in light of the oil spill. A spokesman for the Alabama Department of Environmental Management said then that his agency was going by what the Environmental Protection Agency told them. At that point, the spokesman said no detectable levels of toxins from the oil spill had been reported. Likewise, a spokeswoman from the Baldwin County Health Department said BCHD was monitoring hospital emergency rooms and other medical outlets, and no widespread presentation of respiratory problems were being manifested. Lauren Ragland, however, points out EPA had no air monitoring station set up on the Alabama Gulf Coast and, when oil came ashore, EPA stopped monitoring with hand-held monitors. She and Robyn Hill allege local physicians are diagnosing a lot of “summer flu” along the coast.) 

Truth on Health Hazards BP Spill 07-24-10 FOLEY ONLOOKER.htm


  1. The damage to the Gulf has been done - for the foreseeable future. The oil, methane, other gases and dispersant chemicals have poisoned the Gulf, even IF the well has been permanently capped - highly unlikely! Oil and methane leaks will continue and potentially BLOW (oil volcano) at some time in the future (maybe the NEAR future). The Gulf sea floor structure has been compromised by the thousands of wells, many of which are 'closed' but are not monitored! What happened to the Relief Wells strategy?

    The wise course of action for Gulf residents concerned about their health and that of their children is to GET OUT! - while the getting is good (and possible)!

    Don't expect to hear the truth about the Gulf area (water, air, land) and its dangers from the CRIMINAL FEDS or BP!

  2. PS When you put another shrimp on the barbie - can you be sure it's not a (poisoned) Louisiana shrimp?! And you can forget about oysters for the duration.

  3. Good evening from France,

    I'm monitoring this since day 30, exactly.

    I spent 70 days watching 12 hours per day and gathering infos, because I am a one who likes to understand.

    I finally dedicated a very little "channel" on Youtube about this catastrophe. I tried to fill it with home-made short videos providing observations, analysis, interpretations, to help everyone understand the situation.

    Recently, I focused my work on the ROV operation and footage.

    The progress in time is alarming. If you watch my videos you will see it by yourself. Things are rushing into worse since Bonnie's passage.

    I'm afraid it's no more a question of "how long will it take to recover the Gulf".

    For me, and you will think the same I'm afraid after watching my videos, it's now a question of :

    "How to personally survive this."

    And not only for the Gulf people. For me too, 7.500 kms away.

    >It's a 25 BILLION barrels "ocean of oil" that BP is not able to deal with.

    >The sea floor is showing (right now) huge eruptions and storms.

    They first were gas (methane, probably) filled, and since Bonnie, oil appeared.

    It make sens with M.Simmons "prediction".

    M.Simmons is a former oil adviser for Bush administration. He is sort of an insider and I believe his informations.

    Feel free to visit :

    Best regards.


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