RACELAND, La. (CN) - A bayou detoxification program is helping ill coastal residents, many of whom lack health insurance nearly 2 years after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. By most accounts the treatments have helped, and thanks to donors they are free.
Michael Robichaux, an ear, nose and throat specialist, former state senator, and self-described "populist doctor" is running the clinic with chemical detox veteran Jim Woodworth of New York. Woodworth has provided the clinic with staff and funding.
Robichaux, 65, told Courthouse News in an interview that identifying illness from chemical exposure is difficult: "Nothing shows up on blood work. Nothing shows up on brain scans, nothing shows up on MRIs, anything."
Robichaux said what he is seeing appears identical to the reports of symptoms still haunting veterans exposed to toxic chemicals during the first Gulf War.
"Identical - they are identical problems," Robichaux said, picking up a 2008 report on Gulf War illness. "The symptoms are coming from different chemicals, causing the same problems: 'Association with diverse biological alterations that most prominently affects the brain and nervous system,' - exactly what I'm seeing. 'Not explained by routine medical evaluations ... symptoms that typically include a combination of memory and concentration problems, persistent headaches, fatigue and widespread pain.'
"Those are exactly the symptoms I just told you," Robichaux said, "and it's exactly what I hear every day."
BP and plaintiff attorneys in the oil spill litigation announced a settlement March 2, pending court approval, that would provide medical care for Gulf Coast residents, including medical monitoring for 21 years.
But if oil spill-related illnesses are indeed similar to Gulf War illness - caused by exposure to toxins - the question remains how physicians will treat it.
In the past two decades, the U.S. government has spent almost $1 billion to understand and treat Gulf War illness, yet the 2008 government report on the condition says that no satisfactory treatments are known.
The reportfrom the Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veteran's Illnesses states: "Gulf War illness is a serious condition that affects at least one fourth of the 697,000 U.S. veterans who served in the 1990-1991 Gulf War. ...
"No effective treatments have been identified for Gulf War illness and studies indicate that few veterans have recovered over time."
Despite this depressing conclusion from the 465-page report, Robichaux and Woodworth say their treatment plan at the Gulf Coast Detox Project is working.
"Something Jim [Woodworth] said before we got started here that's panned out to be absolutely true is that the patients get better," Robichaux said.
Called "Dr. Mike" by his many admirers, Robichaux has an easy Southern-gentry manner, mixing warmth with intensity.
"So I've gotten over the gap [of uncertainty] and I know it's true because it's worked - it's worked remarkably well so far," Robichaux said.
Woodworth's previous detox centers include two New York City facilities set up after 9/11 to treat rescue workers exposed to toxins.