Tarballs Found on Horn Island

At first it was a mystery how the oil was getting on to the beach because there was no visible sheen on the surface of the water. I know you are not supposed to touch the tarballs (I took BP’s 4 hour HazMat class) but I felt compelled to determine if the dark brown debris in the surf was in fact oil. After a few failed attempts, I finally caught a palm sized clump. It was very sticky and covered in sand and plant material. The inside was dark orange, shiny, and gooey looking. I did not touch the inside, still, my fingers were coated in the thickest emollient I have ever felt from where I picked it up out of the surf.We determined that the balls of oil are rolling in from under the ocean with the wave action, not from the surface. Staring out at the Gulf, I considered how much oil was out there and for how long we would be finding these little toxic pancakes on our shores.NOAA’s website gives some information about tarballs and public health:”For most people, an occasional brief contact with a small amount of oil, while not recommended, will do no harm. However, some people are especially sensitive to chemicals, including the hydrocarbons found in crude oil and petroleum products. They may have an allergic reaction or develop rashes even from brief contact with oil. In general, we recommend that contact with oil be avoided. If contact occurs, wash the area with soap and water, baby oil, or a widely used, safe cleaning compound such as the cleaning paste sold at auto parts stores.” If you spot anything that looks like a tarball please report it immediately to the U. S. Coast Guard at 800-424-8802. We need to make sure all the impacts of the BP drilling disaster are documented and cleaned up. Casey DeMoss Roberts, MSPH is GRN’s Assistant Director of Water Resources.

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