NEW ORLEANS (CN) - One year after the Deepwater Horizon disaster, Gulf Coast residents are reporting a litany of debilitating illnesses, including tumors, anemia, brain lesions, tremors and seizures - but it's not getting much attention from the media, and many doctors don't seem to know how to deal with it.
One overworked Louisiana doctor who treats such patients, Michael Robichaux, says the chemicals released by the oil rig explosion included virulent poisons.
"They were interviewing Admiral Thad Allen a while back and they asked him, 'What are they using as antifreezes in [the riser pipe connecting the Deepwater Horizon to the Macondo oil well]?' - this was after the spill was over - and he said, 'We're using methanol and ethylene glycol.'
"Well, I jumped up and down and cut some flips because ethylene glycol is antifreeze, OK? And if you live in Raceland, Louisiana and want to get rid of your neighbor's dog that's digging in your flower bed, you take a weenie over there and put a little antifreeze on it, and he's gone.
"Methanol is wood alcohol. Ten cc's blinds you. Thirty cc's kills you, OK? Now, they're talking hundreds of thousands of gallons. They use the hundreds of thousands of gallons in the riser pipe to keep it from freezing."
When such a pipe bursts, as it did aboard the Deepwater Horizon 1 year ago today, hundreds of thousands of gallons of toxic chemicals joined the petroleum products that spewed into the Gulf of Mexico.
Dr. Robichaux, affectionately called Dr. Mike by his many admirers, has an easy Southern-gentry way of telling a story. Courthouse News interviewed him for this report, but his quoted remarks are taken from a video of his address to the Baton Rouge Press Club in March.
In the video, Robichaux, of Raceland, in Lafourche Parish, wears a dress shirt and tie covered in Looney Tunes characters. He looks exhausted. That doesn't mask the passion the 65-year-old ear, nose and throat specialist and former state senator feels for the work he is doing. And the fatigue does not mask his anger.
"Freddie's blind - we know what methanol does," Dr. Robichaux said.
Freddie Lambert, a former offshore worker and a patient of Robichaux's, was splashed in the face with oil dispersant last year and is blind.
"I've seen patient after patient who is violently ill," Robichaux says in the video.
He says his patients suffer from a variety of ailments. What they have in common is that they all live or work along the Gulf Coast and all have become sick since the oil spill.
The illnesses have psychological ramifications too, Robichaux said. Patients become confused; some lose their memory.
"A lot of the treatment has got to be psychological," Robichaux says.
Al-Jazeera has been reporting on illnesses along the Gulf Coast for months. But in the United States, reports of the widespread illnesses have delivered for the most part via YouTube videos and Facebook postings.
It feels like walking into a science fiction novel Tuesday, in the musty corridors of the Hilton Riverside Hotel in downtown New Orleans, where Robichaux and his patients - on this day, three seriously ill Gulf Coast residents -turned out for a symposium marking the first year anniversary of the BP oil spill.