“The Gulf’s best tourism season in years” soaks an Alabama family in tarballs

At this point, it’s probably beating a dead horse to make fun of those omnipresent ads for BP promoting tourism along the Gulf of Mexico — the ones that call it “the Gulf’s best tourism season in years.” The reality for most tourists along the Gulf Coast is that — to put it mildly — the experience can vary. It’s possible to have a grand summer vacation two years after the Deepwater Horizon explosion — but it helps not to eat seafood, given the lax testing standards. And if you find yourself in the wrong place at the wrong time, your experience could be a nightmare.

Check out what happened to these locals from Foley, Ala., when they tried to swim in their local waters recently:

A Foley family said they became seriously ill after swimming on the beach in Gulf Shores where tarballs and oily sea shells were washing up Sunday. James Nolan said their bodies were coated in a tacky, brown tar that was nearly impossible to clean off.

“It was all over our arms and our legs,” Nolan said, who was swimming in Laguna Key. “I threw up right after. I never do that. We all feel flu-like symptoms today.”

Nolan collected dozens of tarballs, shells covered in brown tar, and unusual black oyster shells that reek of diesel. Nolan has lived in Gulf Shores his whole life, and says this is most definitely from the BP oil spill and not discharged by a passing boat or barge.

Nolan said it took several bottles of Dawn dishwashing liquid and a pot scrubber four times over to get the tar off their bodies. “Even after all that, I can still feel it on my skin,” Nolan said.

Did the tarballs and the other pollution result from the 2010 BP spill? It certainly looks that way to local officials who’ve been monitoring the Alabama beaches every since the oil from the Deepwater Horizon blowout first hit. Certainly. BP itself was taking no chances  — the Big Oil giant dispatched its own cleanup crew to Foley as soon as the reports surfaced.

Beach-goer James Nolan won’t be appearing in any future BP ads, and neither will this restaurateur:

Carmen Potts, an organic produce farmer, once owned a family-run organic seafood restaurant in a popular beach town on the Gulf Coast.

After the oil spill, Potts had no choice but to close the restaurant when the number of tourists plummeted in 2010.

According to Potts, she can’t blame people for not wanting to visit and eat the seafood caught from the Gulf of Mexico.

“I haven’t eaten a single fish or shrimp from the Gulf since the oil spill,” Potts said. “People from here should know that we have no idea how contaminated the food could be.”

The big picture here is clear. Despite what folks see on their TV, the reality is that people who know the Gulf best lack confidence in the safety of the seafood they eat or the waters they swim in. It’s a situation that cries out for more government investigation, to get to the bottom of these unresolved environmental issues. And here’s the funny part: Congress is calling for a new hearing on drilling issues in the Gulf.

But check out what they’re investigating:

U.S. Sens. David Vitter (R-La.), Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas) announced that the federal Integrity Committee is meeting July 13 to discuss an investigation into a potential cover up of documents that led to the drilling moratorium in the Gulf of Mexico following the BP oil spill. The senators requested this investigation on May 24, 2012.

“The Gulf moratorium crushed thousands of jobs – many effects of which Louisiana is still suffering from – so it’s encouraging to see the appropriate action taken to start an accurate investigation,” Vitter said.

Yes, you read that right. Congress wants to investigate an alleged cover-up not of the spill or its environmental impact on the Gulf, but whether it was wrong to impose a moratorium on new offshore drilling. Right now, we have a federal government that is 100 percent in the tank for Big Oil. So I’m beginning to think that the only way we’re ever really going to clean up the Gulf of Mexico is to clean up Congress first.

To learn more about the tarballs that sickened an Alabama family, please read: http://www.local15tv.com/mostpopular/story/Family-Oily-Seashells-and-Tarballs-Led-to-Sickness/Y–8MYxcG0K-aPoOcUbx6A.cspx

To read more about the environmental fallout from the Gulf spill, check out: http://www.theplainsman.com/view/full_story/19328313/article-Studies-show-previously-unseen-effects-of-2010-oil-spill?instance=home_news_lead_story

© Smith Stag, LLC 2012 – All Rights Reserved

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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