Tropical Storm Isaac is bearing down on the Louisiana coast and is likely to become a hurricane later today, before making landfall somewhere close to New Orleans. This is not good news for either my hometown or the surrounding areas which have been struggling for seven years — to the very day — to recover from the grim aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Even though Isaac is not expected to match the destructive force of Katrina, which was a major Category 3 storm when it finally made landfall, I hope that anyone who’s in the expected impact zone takes every necessary precaution, as even a Category 1 hurricane will bring a powerful storm surge to low-lying areas, epic amounts of rain and flooding, and destructive winds.
There’s one other thing about these tropical storms that attack the Gulf Coast every summer and fall; they typically bring reminders of the manmade, environmental damage that’s taken place in the region. One current example of that is the area around Bayou Corne, where rural residents already alarmed by the impact of an expanding sinkhole are now dealing with the stress of an evacuation and the fears that flooding could worsen their situation. But the greatest environmental impact from Isaac is the possibility — a likelihood, according to many experts — that oil residue from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill will again assault our beaches.
Last summer, Tropical Storm Lee struck the Gulf Coast region, and this was the result:
Tar balls washed onto Gulf of Mexico beaches by Tropical Storm Lee earlier this month show that oil left over from last year’s BP spill isn’t breaking down as quickly as some scientists thought it would, university researchers said Tuesday.
“The data question the validity of the widely held belief that submerged oil from the Deepwater Horizon accident is substantially weathered and thus depleted” of most toxic hydrocarbons, Auburn University researchers wrote.
And it happened again, earlier this year, as Tropical Storm Debby struck Alabama’s Dauphin Island:
The largest tarballs encountered were the size of hamburger patties. In general, the oil seemed to be heavier in certain areas than others. In some places, tarballs were visible every few inches in the wrack line along hundreds of feet of shoreline. In other areas, the tarballs were five to 10 feet apart.
The bad news is that Isaac is a much more potent storm than either Lee or Debby. That is why the Louisiana Environmental Action Network, or LEAN, issued this very important alert last night, which I am re-publishing here:
As a result of the BP Crude Oil spill that occurred on April 20, 2010, large quantities of crude oil remain sub surface in the northern Gulf of Mexico. During minor storm events, substantial quantities of crude oil in the form of tar balls, mats and strings have washed onshore with the weather fronts. Associated with Hurricane Issac, there is the potential for very large quantities of BP crude oil to wash on shore in the coastal areas, beaches, wetlands, and marshes in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and the panhandle of Florida.
The BP Crude Oil contains residual levels of toxic Polynuclear Aromatic Hydrocarbons. Pathways of exposure to humans consist of absorption through skin contact, ingestion and inhalation of the toxic chemicals.
ALERT: Do not come in contact with the crude oil that may wash on shore.
Do not touch or break open the material that appears to be BP Crude Oil.
Fishermen harvesting seafood in the coastal bays and offshore areas should be aware to avoid contact with residual oil that may contaminate their seafood catches, nets, gear and traps.
The potential exists for hydrocarbon material from sources other than the BP spill, such as leaking wells, storage tanks, and pipelines, to contaminate the environment as a result of Hurricane Issac. Contact with these materials must also be avoided.
Although it appears certain that Isaac will make a direct hit on Louisiana later today, I join with my friends and neighbors in praying that the effects will be minimal, and that all safety precautions are followed. But I also fear that when the winds subside, residents will see an oily reminder of what environmentalists and scientists have been saying for the last two years — that the fallout and the harm to the Gulf from BP’s recklessness and the Deepwater Horizon disaster are far from over. Americans who’ve been inundated with BP’s slick commercials all summer telling them that the worst from the spill is behind us may be shocked to learn the reality.
To read the Isaac alert from the Louisiana Environmental Action Network, please go to: http://www.leanweb.org/our-work/community/public-health/hurricane-isaac-alert-possible-oil-contamination
To read more about the tarballs washed ashore by Tropical Storm Lee in 2011, please read: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/44600193/ns/us_news-environment/t/bp-oil-only-slowly-degrading-gulf-floor-study-says/
To learn about tarball pollution from 2012’s Tropical Storm Debby, check out: http://blog.al.com/live/2012/06/tropical_storm_debby_washes_ta.html
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