After living here in “The Sunshine State” for most of my life, I’ve seen tourists and locals alike do some crazy things that defy logic just to enjoy swimming in the Gulf, stretching out on the beach and soaking up the sun in less than ideal conditions. Some merely swim in freezing temperatures while others try to surf during tropical storms and hurricanes. Some keep right on swimming or shelling on the beach while lightening crackles overhead, and there are more than a few willing to risk their lives and countless others by operating a boat or a jet ski when they have no business doing so and don’t know how.
So just imagine what happens when you throw oil and dispersants into Gulf waters? Logic should dictate the right choice, but you just know there will be people who won’t resist the temptation to jump in the water or cross their fingers while they down some shellfish in spite of any doubts they might have. And that’s with the benefit of good information. But what if you heed the warnings and say no thanks. Then, what if you’re told later: “hey, never mind. It’s safe now!” and find out later that wasn’t the case?
Well, here’s “what if:”
Santa Rosa Island officials flew the double-red flag – no swimming – over Pensacola Beach in Florida after a swath of thick oil washed ashore from the Gulf oil spill June 23.
Two days later, against the warnings of federal health officials and based on a visual survey of the beach, the local island authority director, Buck Lee, reopened the beaches for swimming, urging residents and tourists to come back to the beach. Officials left the ultimate decision on whether it was safe to swim to beachgoers.
This week, health officials in Escambia County, Fla., which includes Pensacola Beach, reported that about 400 people claimed they felt sick after visiting the beach and swimming in the Gulf.
For those who think they can’t be harmed by what they can’t see, consider the sand that’s being dumped over oil to cover it up on beaches in Louisiana. Consider that pilots flying over visibly oil contaminated waters in the Gulf have reported seeing swimmers closer to shore unaware of what those pilots see from above?
That’s just the oil. What about Corexit, the dispersant BP has been using that you can’t see? The Environmental Protection Agency let BP use it at first. Then they told BP to stop (which they didn’t) and then later gave them the go ahead again anyway to keep using it in spite of known toxicity and that it was banned in the UK, among other places. The EPA said the dispersant was less toxic than the oil. Did that make anyone feel any safer?
The Environmental Protection Agency issued a study Wednesday that found that the dispersant being used by BP in the Gulf of Mexico, as well as seven alternative mass-produced dispersants, all fell within the range of “practically non-toxic” to “slightly toxic.”
Oh…….But if the EPA says it’s safe, it must be safe….right? Right……?
The conclusions, although preliminary, appear to support BP’s contention that there is little difference between Corexit 9500 and other dispersants available on the market, an argument the oil giant used in rebuffing EPA’s order in May to stop using the chemical.
But the study offered little relief to environmentalists and ocean scientists concerned about the unprecedented amounts of dispersant being sprayed into the gulf in an attempt to mitigate BP’s massive oil leak. Equally important, they say, are studies that would measure the toxicity of the Louisiana sweet crude as it mixes with the dispersants.
In a conference call with reporters, Paul Anastas, EPA’s assistant administrator for research and development, said the agency was working on such a study. Before making any alterations to its current policy, he said, “we will need to have this additional testing of the dispersants plus the oil.”
‘Practically non-toxic’ to ‘slightly toxic’ you say? And yet, the spraying continues….
…..so what about the sea life, or seafood in the Gulf that survives or migrates elsewhere? Does that make it “practically normal?” “Slightly edible??” What about the food chain? What about life of ANY kind in the Gulf, and waters beyond?
University scientists have spotted the first indications oil is entering the Gulf seafood chain — in crab larvae — and one expert warns the effect on fisheries could last “years, probably not a matter of months” and affect many species…
…found droplets of oil in the larvae of blue crabs and fiddler crabs sampled from Louisiana to Pensacola, Fla.
“I think we will see this enter the food chain in a lot of ways — for plankton feeders, like menhaden, they are going to just actively take it in,” said Harriet Perry, director of the Center for Fisheries Research and Development at the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory. “Fish are going to feed on (crab larvae). We have also just started seeing it on the fins of small, larval fish — their fins were encased in oil. That limits their mobility, so that makes them easy prey for other species. The oil’s going to get into the food chain in a lot of ways.”
Other species? How about ALL species? You do the math.
Meanwhile back in Pensacola Beach:
As the Fourth of July holiday weekend began, Florida Panhandle officials said Friday they didn’t know if the waters off Pensacola were safe for swimming. But they issued a blanket warning to stay out of the Gulf.
“We are not advising that anyone go in the water,” said Dr. John Lanza, head of the state-run Escambia County Health Department. “We’re erring on the side of caution.”
His comments came at a morning news conference announcing an escalation in its advisories against swimming along Pensacola Beach.
That famous stretch of white sand has been the biggest victim so far of the Florida Panhandle’s oil crisis, which began April 20 when the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded and unleashed a gushing underwater oil well.
Even as congealed oil in the form of tar balls litters the beach and the sands are stained with the rusty residue of oil sheen, authorities have only issued advisories against swimming on portions of the beach.
That changed Thursday, when the advisory was extended to all 43 miles of Pensacola Beach. And it escalated again Friday when the Health Department switched from an advisory to an “Oil Impact Notice,” stating, “This beach is affected by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.”
The announcement has no practical effect — it’s still up to the individual whether to enter the water.
By the way, you see the photo on my blog header, up at the top there? That’s a picture I took of Pensacola Beach back in May just a couple of weeks after the oil spill began. Well, here’s what that same beach looked like as of June 23.