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Gulf Left Gasping for Air from BP Oil Spill's Many Toxins

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By Susan Buchanan, Special to the NNPA from the Louisiana Weekly –

(NNPA) - Southeast Louisiana residents and workers on the water have kept medics busy and poison hotlines humming for three months because of exposure to toxic emissions from BP's oil spill. Several hundred coas tal dwellers went from sniffing April blossoms to rushing to doctors and hospitals for respiratory and other ailments caused by foul air since the rig explosion.

The state's Dept. of Health and Hospitals last month said 290 spill-related medical cases had been reported to date. Of those, 216 were workers doing oil-cleanup duty or manning oil rigs, and 74 were people taken ill on shore.

Burning and evaporation of oil and gas have hurt air quality, while residents live near toxic waters filled with oil and dispersants. As of last week, 363 miles of Louisiana coastline were oiled, far more than in any other state.

In its spill response, BP's first, open-water, burning of oil in the Gulf open-water, burning of oil in the occurred on April 28, according to the company. On June 3, BP started capturing oil and flaring gas at the well with the installation of the Lower Marine Riser Package-containment cap. The LMRP took oil and gas to the drill-ship Discoverer Enterprise, where oil was collected and gas was flared. A second oil-recovery system began operating at the well in mid-June, and carried oil and gas to the Q4000 well-intervention vessel-where both oil and gas were flared.

If you live near the coast and don't feel well, you might want to crack open an old, school chemistry book to look for some reasons. Bhaskar Kura, professor of civil and environmental engineering at University of New Orleans, is researching local air quality, and collected samples by boat at Grand Bayou in Port Sulphur in June with Arizona State University staffers. Kura said a group of air pollutants of varying toxicity to human, know as hydrocarbons, are contained in crude oil. Pollutants that enter the air from evaporating crude include benzene, toluene, ethyl-benzene and xylene.

Additional pollutants enter the atmosphere from spill-cleanup activities, like oil slick burning. He is director of UNO's Maritime Environmental Resources and Information Center.

Kura's earliest findings will be released soon, and he plans to conduct much more research, including detailed sampling near the well site and other spots with universities from several states.

Nicholas Cheremisinoff, PhD chemical engineer and consultant in West Virginia, said "air monitoring data reported on BP's spill-response website show hardly any impact to air quality, which is inconsistent with the more than 300 fishermen and cleanup workers that have been admitted to Louisiana hospitals in the last two months." He is a former Exxon chemical engineer and a consultant to oil and chemical industries.

Residents as far north as New Orleans who have smelled oil in recent months wonder just how bad the air is and whether the government is downplaying threats to prevent panic.

Cheremisinoff said "the black smoke observed from burning oil slicks in the Gulf contained sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, volatile organics, hydrogen sulfide, poly?aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). These products of incomplete combustion contribute to the formation of acid aerosols, soot and promote particle formation in the atmosphere. The emissions are toxic on their own, and contribute to the formation of smog and acid rain, which worsens air quality."

Burning oil slicks, known as 'in situ' burning, is more hazardous to humans than flaring gas at the well site, he said. When BP recovered oil from the well and burned the gas, those emissions were not as significant as burning slicks, he noted. Natural gas is comprised of methane, and is a relatively clean-burning fuel, with low levels of particulates. He is a former Exxon chemical engineer and a consultant to oil and chemical industries.

Workers on water are exposed to smoke from controlled burns of oil and to oil evaporating in water.

"Workers and possibly residents inhale volatile organic compounds and other hydrocarbons," Chere?misinoff said. "Oil vapors cause headaches, dizziness, nausea, breathing difficulties, vomiting and eye and throat irritation. And bear in mind that crude oil is a mixture of hundreds of chemicals, most of which are toxic." Inhaling quantities of fumes can cause chemical poisoning, called hydrocarbon pneumonia.

"Oil-slick burning generates a broad, particle-size distribution of soot and particulate matter," Cheremisinoff said. "From a health-risk standpoint, there's concern about inhaling small particulate matter that is under 10 microns in size, to particle sizes all the way up to 30 microns-which can be ingested."

Rangel, Waters Fight Ethics Charges as Black Support Mounts

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WASHINGTON (NNPA) – As U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) prepares to fight 13 ethics charges, U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, another leading member of the Congressional Black Caucus, has also come under scrutiny.

Reportedly, Waters (D-Calif.) has decided to go to trial rather than be sanctioned for allegedly improperly influencing the receipt of $12 million in bailout funds by the Massachusetts-based OneUnited Bank, where her husband owns stock.

Formal charges against Waters by the House Ethics Committee will reportedly be announced next week. Charges against Rangel involve reporting of income on his financial disclosure forms as well as alleged fund-raising violations.

The investigations have been blasted by pundits as racially disparate.

Black leaders, including political scientist Dr. Ron Walters, U. S. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif) -- chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, and Danny Bakewell, chairman of the National Newspaper Publishers Association, have warned against rushing to judgment.

“Of course, we know that one of the most important principles of America’s democracy is due process, that a person is innocent of any charges until all the facts are in and that person is either proven guilty or acquitted of the charges,” says Bakewell in an op-ed posted this week by the NNPA News Service. “This due process must be respected in the ethics charges against Mr. Rangel. He has admitted some mistakes, but we need not rush to judgment as was in the flagrant case involving Shirley Sherrod,” Bakewell wrote.

Rangel was an NNPA "Legacy of Excellence" Award recipient at the organization's annual convention, held in New York in June.

Lee said in a statement, “All Americans are entitled to a fair and due process, and that right extends to Congressman Rangel as well. Any rush to judgment to short-circuit the ongoing review of Congressman Rangel by the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct will do a disservice to the well established processes of the House of Representatives.”

Walters says the Black members are suspiciously going through the full process while White lawmakers are getting off the hook.

“Well, you get it; if you have the money of Senator Jane Harmon or the power of John Murtha, very little will happen to you,” he said. "I'm not defending Black members of Congress who violate ethics rules, but as long as Whites are exonerated, so should Blacks.”

Thousands Attend NUL Jobs Fair Amidst Record Unemployment Numbers for Blacks

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By Jacqueline Taylor, NNPA Special Correspondent –

WASHINGTON (NNPA) - Following a rousing speech by President Barack Obama—who emphasized America’s growing economy and an increase in private sector jobs—the National Urban League kicked off the start of its largest career fair to commemorate its Centennial Conference as the Black jobless rate continues at more than 15 percent.

The NUL Conference, led by President and CEO Marc H. Morial, was held at Washington, D.C.’s Convention Center, where more than 2,000 prospective employees came from around the country to speak to the nearly 80 recruiters on hand from companies, organizations, and government agencies. They ranged from Allstate to Pitney Bowes to the United States Department of Agriculture and Adecco.

With 15 years of experience, job seeker Joy Lindsey from Alexandria, Va. made her rounds to the various booths. Unemployed for the last seven months, Lindsey—who holds a master’s degree in advertising—remains optimistic about her future.

“I’m looking for a career transition that offers me growth,” Lindsey said. “I’m here to connect with someone that may be a few degrees of separation from a key player. I need help to get an interview and build a continual network of support.”

Wanda Jackson, NUL Vice President of Human Resources, noted that this year’s career fair is not unique to the organization.

“For the last 100 years, the Urban League has been putting people in positions and helping them find jobs,” said Jackson. “In this economy, with so many people unemployed…making jobs available is perhaps the most important thing we can do.”

Adecco staffing consultant Lindsay Nolan was on hand to recruit for general administrative positions in the D.C. metropolitan area. Nolan emphasized that when she reviews resumes, she is looking for stable work experience.

“Job-hopping does not typically look good for administrative roles,” Nolan noted. “That’s always a red flag for me.”

Travis Brown of Daytona Beach Florida had stopped at 20 booths and spoken to 12 representatives. He said he found the representatives to be friendly. Having graduated with degrees in Political Science and English four years ago from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, he’s anticipating that he might not find a job right away.

“I anticipate the job search taking about two months,” said Brown. “I’m hoping that because the exhibitors are here they are actively recruiting. There’s a little less work on my part in having to actively find folks who are actively recruiting. I’m hoping they are here just not to get their names out there.”

Given Brown’s previous experience, he’s hoping to map out his search before moving to D.C.. He used the onsite computers, sponsored by Diversity Connect, to make contact with employers seeking to hire a diverse workforce.

“I’ll be moving to the DC area and I figure the job fair would give me a head start on a career,” Brown stated. “I’ve moved two places without having a job and it’s not a good feeling.”

NUL also had available career-focused workshops entitled: Resume Retool, Digital Networking, and Looking for a Job in the Right Place. Job seekers also had access to free half-hour coaching sessions. Veronica Conway, Master Certified Coach, spoke to clients in a private area void of the hustle and bustle of the fair. She pointed out that coaching is not advice or therapy.

“Coaching is directing them [clients] in a mindset that leads to behavior change,” said Conway. “We challenge the clients to think bigger, act faster, dig deeper, and trust themselves more. People have everything they need inside of them, but often do not trust themselves.”

The job fair also attracted individuals who are currently employed. Urban League Guild member, Jeffery Berry, came to the conference to support his CEO and President Ralph Holman. The Milwaukee, Wis. resident is interested in starting a new chapter of life on the East Coast.

“I spoke to a Career Coach about my portfolio and what I could do to make it fit the experience level of jobs here in the East Coast,” stated Berry. “The coach discussed the importance of triple proofing your resume, updating contact information on the resume, and the importance of refining your elevator speech. In a couple of months I will be turning a half century old and am looking forward to using my new sharpened skills and experience.”

Next year’s conference is scheduled to take place in Boston, Mass.

Obama Needs Race Staff in the White House, Say Some Civil Rights Leaders

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By Hazel Trice Edney, NNPA Editor-in-Chief –

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – The administration of President Barack Obama is missing a key element that has proven a detriment to America’s growth since he has been in office. That element is a staff presence to deal with the rancorous issues related to race in America.

That is the sentiment of at least three seasoned civil rights warriors who say the cases of former Agriculture Department employee Shirley Sherrod; the advent of racial elements within the Tea Party Express; the uprising following the Oakland, Calif. subway shooting trial of Oscar Grant; and the Arizona racial profiling and immigration protests are among daily issues that graphically illustrate a dire need for White House intervention. Some even say the President is “skittish” or “timid” on race and has neglected the need for policies and procedures that could help quell controversies or abate them in advance.

“In general I think that if they had developed in the administration, a better and more comprehensive way of dealing with racial matters, they would have handled this differently,” says Barbara Arnwine, executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law. She was talking about the forced Sherrod resignation as it relates to the overall handling of race matters by this White House. “I think that they’re skittish. They continue to be too skittish on issues that directly implicate race relations, racial interactions, racial intolerance, racial conflict. They have not figured out how to handle those matters well. That’s why they continue to stumble on these matters.”

Arnwine continues, “I think the fact that they have no veteran civil rights expert in the administration, that’s a problem. They have Black people. They have other people of color, but they really don’t have a person who really know the civil rights community well, who understands our history, our role, our aspirations. They have people with some experience, but they’re not in those roles.”

Former Tennessee Circuit Court Judge and civil rights activist D’Army Bailey agrees.

“The lesson here is that we have to keep pressures on the White House. We cannot take for granted that just because we have an African-American president that the sensitivity is going to be there,” says Bailey, founder of the National Civil Rights Museum in the old Memphis’ Lorraine Motel, where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated in 1968. He is also author of a new book, The Education of a Black Radical, which chronicles his own civil rights history.

“I know that in the Oval Office, there is a bust of Dr. King. I have no concern about this president’s Blackness. But, his timidity when it comes to the tough issues of race, that does concern me,” D’Army says. “And, apparently, some of those people who he has as his key advisors in the White House are not people who’ve got that steely resolve to stand up when the going gets tough and to stand up for the principles of Blackness – not as a racial matter – but as a fairness to Black people and fight for us.”

Bailey adds, “Every person of an ethnic group who comes into a position of leadership anywhere in the world, carries with them, necessarily the unique feelings, aspirations and interests of that ethnic group and ought not to run from it or be fairer than thou with regards to the issues of serving that people.”

President Obama has spoken strongly on race. Even last week during the National Urban League 100th Anniversary Conference, he spoke strongly on the Sherrod case, receiving applause when he said, “The full story she was trying to tell –- a story about overcoming our own biases and recognizing ourselves in folks who, on the surface, seem different -– is exactly the kind of story we need to hear in America.”

He has also received rousing standing ovations at the NAACP’s centennial conference in New York and at the Congressional Black Caucus Annual Legislative Conference last year. At these functions, he speaks almost predominately on issues from a race perspective.

Some disagree that President Obama should take leadership in dealing with America’s race issues. Among those is Harvard Law Professor Charles Ogletree, founding and executive director of the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice.

“I don’t think it’s as important for the president to lead us in these discussions as it is for us to address some of these issues personally,” says Ogletree, who just last year, represented Black Harvard Professor Skip Gates in his run-in with a White Cambridge police officer. The public debacle ended with a so-called “beer summit” at the White House.”

With African-American representatives from every segment of “an increasingly divisive society,” Ogletree says, “at some point we need to realize that this movement starts from the bottom up.”

He adds that Blacks who are economically able should personally concentrate on helping others. This must happen outside the White House, he said.

We have to have our own new Black renaissance movement,” Ogletree says. “And we have to be much more focused on unity of us all.”

But, Dr. Ron Walters, a political analyst and racial politics expert, says because of the gravity of the race issue in America and the fact that the problem is prone to grow, the issue must be dealt with by the White House.

“There needs to be, in the White House structure, someone with credibility to handle outreach to the Black community. I’m talking about the staff. He’s given that to Valerie Jarrett. But, nobody knows who Valerie Jarrett is,” Walters says. “The second thing is that his staff needs to respect race as a dynamic issue in American society and culture and politics that will confront them at every step of the way. This is not a side issue. It is the most dynamic issue in American society and he is Black, which means his approach to it has to have the same respect as other issues” with staffing and experts.

Arnwine, who has participated in issues meetings at the White House, says the President is never there.

“So, that means that everything we say; everything we try to communicate is getting filtered by somebody else’s voice to him,” Arnwine said. Clinton was different in that he would often show up and even disagree with his staff and side with civil rights leaders, she described.

Instead, she says, the Obama administration has “a lot of people who believe that it is their duty to protect the president. I think that’s one of the problems – that they’ve insolated him. … Therefore you get this interaction where nobody can tell you what they’re going to do. They can’t commit to anything.”

Notwithstanding the need for a person or staff on race, Bailey says, there are other steps Obama can take to at least connect more with the Black community.

“He has to work harder to avoid the isolation of the White House and connect with the hard-felt sentiments of the people in the streets,” Bailey says. “Just like he’s vacationed in Florida and in the Gulf to show his empathy, he’s got to come off the vineyard and get out into the community and feel those people too and relax and vacation.”

Women's Rights and Protections Topped Global AIDS Conference in Vienna

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By Alice Thomas-Tisdale, Special to NNPA from the Jackson Advocate –

VIENNA, Austria (NNPA) – The 18th Annual International AIDS Conference kicked off here Sunday, July 18, with more than 20,000 delegates being urged to make things happen “Rights Here, Right Now” by signing The Vienna Declaration supporting drug policy based on science, not ideology.

Among the top issues at this year’s conference is the examination of the rights of women in the context of HIV. Over 15.7 million women are living with HIV – half of all adults living with the virus. Women from every corner of the world are making their voices heard, especially Women ARISE (Access, Rights, Investment, Security, and Equity), the largest coalition of women’s organizations that have ever come together around HIV/AIDS.

Results of the CAPRISA 004 microbicide trial results were alo released during the conference. This study provides the first data demonstrating the effectiveness of an antiretroviral-based vaginal microbicide in reducing a woman’s risk of sexually transmitted infection with HIV and genital herpes.

“We welcome news of progress on a prevention tool that would give women greater control over their health and their lives,” said Dr. Julio Montaner, AIDS 2010 Chair, President of the International AIDS Society (IAS) and Director of the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS in Vancouver, Canada. “Empowering women in this way as part of a broader agenda to ensure human rights brings us one step closer to the goal of universal access.”

Also, the Global AIDS Alliance released its report on Mobilizing Accelerated Action to End Violence Against Women and Girls by 2015. Political will and resource mobilization in tackling violence and HIV/AIDS are at the top of the list of a comprehensive response to violence against women and girls. The other six pillars are legal/judicial reform, health sector reform, education sector reform, community mobilization for zero tolerance, mass media for social change, and breaking the cycle of violence.

Among this report’s findings is that unless the global community addresses violence against women and girls, the multi-billion dollar fight against AIDS is sure to fail. It suggests the response must be comprehensive – taking a multi-faceted approach focusing both on prevention and care and recognizing the socio-cultural factors contributing to the spread of HIV and preventing many persons living with HIV/AIDS from accessing services.

“Around the world, one in three women are beaten, raped or coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime. Violence against women and girls is a primary barrier to achieving universal access to HIV/AIDS prevention, care and treatment,” stated Lisa Schechtman, Policy Director, Global AIDS Alliance.

Joining Schechtman for a panel discussion on the political breakthrough report on Violence Against Girls and Women were Dr. Sabrina Bakeera-Kitaka, President of the Uganda Pediatric Association; Dr. Jantine Jacobi, Director, Global Coalition on Women and AIDS, UNAIDS; Ntombekhaya Matsha-Carpterntier, Senior Civil Society Officer, The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria; and Yvonne Chaka Chaka, United Nations MDG Envoy for Africa.

Chaka Chaka also is internationally known as an accomplished singer of 20 albums. She stated: “I am a mother first. I have four boys, and I teach them it is unacceptable to abuse anybody.”

Chaka Chaka said she is appalled at adults encouraging youth to sell their bodies for profit. She also criticized African nations for hiding behind their culture to perform genital mutilation on young girls. “Our children should not be subjected to this. I don’t understand why women are tortured when they bring life into the world,” she lamented.

Consistent with the initiatives being recommended at this conference, is legislation currently being considered by the United States 111th Congress in what is known as H.R. 4594. If passed, this bill will direct the Secretary of State to establish the Office for Global Women’s Issues. This Office would help coordinate efforts worldwide to develop comprehensive strategies to prevent and respond to violence against women and girls. The proposed legislation also would authorize funding for community-based organizations to implement violence prevention programs.

Alice Thomas-Tisdale is publisher of the Jackson Advocate, based in Jackson, Miss.

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