Former CEO of Broward Health Now Managing Louisiana's Health Response to Spill

Maybe managing the massive, notoriously incestuous North Broward Hospital District wasn't enough of a challenge for Alan Levine. He left that post in December 2007 to become secretary of the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals. In a little more than two years, he's had to deal with a major flood, a financial drought, a couple of hurricanes, and... oh yeah... the biggest environmental disaster in U.S. history. 

Considering how far that spill has spread, 

it's apparent that Levine's decisions will once again have an impact on the health of South Floridians. With that in mind, I asked Levine to give his analysis from the front lines.

His greatest source of frustration has been the Environmental Protection Agency. Back in early May Levine demanded that regulators force BP to produce research supporting the use of chemical dispersant being used on the oil. He never got that research. That's because it doesn't exist.

The dispersants could treat oil on the surface, says Levine; but because they emulsify the oil, they keep it from coming to the surface. That makes it harder to remove from the water, producing huge plumes of oil underwater.

In an email today, Levine told Juice:
Our argument is that when you trade one thing for another, you usually want to know what you are trading for. In this case, we are trading for oil going to places we will have no idea it is going until it is there...Not to mention the damage to our underwater ecosystem off Louisiana's coast, which represents 40% of America's wetlands.
In short, a federal agency that had had a recent lesson in the dangers of allowing Big Oil to call its own shots (i.e. the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig) had allowed Big Oil to be reckless one more time. Says Levine:
They are supposed to protect the environment, and in this case, they were nothing more than a mouthpiece for BP. Without the benefit of science, they should not have permitted these dispersants to be used in a way they were not designed to be.
Like much of what's happened in the Gulf, this was entirely predictable and preventable. In a May 8 letter to BP Levine asked the company to not use the dispersants based on a 2005 scientific paper that found they don't actually change the amount of oil that enters the environment.

Of course, what's happening now off the coast of Louisiana is a preview of what's coming our way courtesy ocean currents. "The issue for Florida is that there are these underwater plumes that are very deep, and they could impact estuaries, biosystems and the food chain," says Levine.

In late May he gave BP what he called a "seafood safety program" that called for the testing of dispersants, a certification program that would allow the state to guarantee the safety of seafood from the Gulf and a media campaign to inform consumers. The cost: $500 million. And by Levine's reckoning that's the very least of what BP owes to Louisiana:
If BP does not fund this plan, our seafood industry is dead. Nobody will buy Gulf coast seafood -- and if we can't prove its safe, I don't blame them...which is why we need to do the testing. When people ask, "How do you know its safe?", unlike EPA and BP, the State of Louisiana wants to prove it with science and data.
Here's an interview Levine gave to a local television station a few weeks ago.

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Thomas Francis