Much, if not most thoughts about the BP Oil Spill of 2010 go to the plant, invertebrate and vertebrate animal life of the gulf, which is expected to be decimated in unheard of proportions. Even after 20 years, certain fish populations have not rebounded from the Exxon-Valdez spill.
But the human toll is one which was never given much attention. There was apparently the assumption that humans could migrate, move or re-tool their careers in order to survive. But, even after the physical tolls of exposure to the toxic vapors and solids of the oil/dispersant mix have been argued about, there are the psychological, social and economic tolls that are as complex as the people of the Gulf of Mexico are complex.
From Vietnamese-Americans who have thrived for decades in the region through fishing and other independent occupations to indigenous peoples who have thrived there for millennium, to the others from all over the world who have livelihoods, communities, cultures and psyches that are going to be affected.
Legal claims and complaints
Little is known now and much needs to be known now about the ways in which the claims against those who are responsible for the spill are constructed and justified. Claims and tort's complaints will not be limited to those health and economic effects that are obvious, immediate and arguable in a court of law: There is also loss of livelihood and health from direct and indirect exposure to the oil/dispersant mix; there are damages that extend throughout society and throughout the generations.
Wider spread of illness
Indirect effects and harms include the wider spread of illness, especially neurological, metabolic and reproductive damages that will definitely extend to future generations of humans. There will be psychological disorders that will occur in those who were nowhere near having direct contact with the oil/dispersant mix.
No economy operates with strictly separated and self sufficient components. Populations have been coming and going to and from the Gulf of Mexico for business, crime, recreation and to live there. Many are migrants or refugees from other countries. With a damaged economy, those peoples may be forced to migrate to other parts of the country in order to reestablish their lives and to find ways to make livings. With high unemployment, housing issues and economic crisis almost everywhere, this will place a burden on already heavily populated areas that have limited resources to begin with.
There may be great inward migration by those who seek employment or business opportunities in the vast array of fields that will be involved in investigation, study, repair, restoration, logistics, support, commercial enterprise and litigation. Such opportunities include tasks and missions that will require everything from unskilled labor to specialists in all of the known scientific, legal and medical professions. All will have to be housed, fed, find places to shop, to get cultural and government agency service and to have recreation.
More disaster and emergency diaspora
There will be hurricanes to aggravate the spread of oil and gas vapors to places where the substances would otherwise not intrude. This may widen the health, physical and other exposures to the toxins in the oil. One theory is that the oil is expected to increase the temperatures of the Gulf waters, a major factor in the strengths that hurricanes are allowed to achieve before they hit the land brake and lose power. It is possible that there will, as a result, be far more powerful storms while the oil is still present. This may lead to incredible mass evacuations and rapid diaspora of residents on a completely unplanned and possibly repetitive basis.
Loss of indigenous knowledge, "miracle botanicals" and human habitat
There will also be a loss of places that are safe for millions of residents who have great and undocumented knowledge of the area, whether they are Native Americans, American citizens of many generations or relative newcomers, such as the Vietnamese who brought their own indigenous knowledge and applied it in their new homes.
If oil is pushed deeper into inhabited areas, there will be serious loss of habitable crop, residential, strategic military and commercial land. It will take far more to clean up an oil/dispersant mix than it will take to clean up water from storms. This will create an extended superfund site and possibly uninhabitable zones throughout the Gulf region.
The recent explosion in interest in the rich ethnobotany of the Gulf of Mexico is likely to be challenged if the plant life is decimated and a stop is put to the production of plants that show medical promise.
In summary, work needs to start, right now, on the impacts of the BP oil spill on humans, their forced diaspora and migrations, their extended difficulties and harms and their opportunities, or there will be repercussions throughout the country that other places are not prepared to handle.