HORN ISLAND, Mississippi – BP’s cleanup of the Mississippi coast and its barrier islands resumed this week after an 11-day holiday hiatus, and according to officials, Petit Bois and Horn islands continue to be where a majority of the tar balls and patties are being collected.
More than 2.6 million pounds of oil-related material have been collected from June to December along the Jackson County mainland and the two islands south of its shores.
Horn and Petit Bois were each cleaned of more than 1 million pounds of tar material each, according to BP.
During that same period, almost 600,000 pounds were collected in Harrison County, which includes the mainland and Cat, East and West Ship Islands.
This week, more than 27,000 pounds of material was collected on Petit Bois, according to BP spokesman Ray Melick, who said that it is the only Mississippi island where deep-cleaning sifting machines are currently being used to collect tar balls and patties.
He cautioned that approximately 40-to-60 percent of what is collected by hand or machine is comprised of actual tar material.
“They’re picking up everything that clumps together and sticks,” especially sand, Melick said during a tour of Horn Island for members of the coast media on Friday. “(The numbers) are deceptive from that standpoint.”
Melick said as many as 750 people are cleaning the three coastal counties and the barrier islands on any given day, including support staff. That was the case on Friday, and more than 100 were cleaning Horn Island where tar balls and patties were uncovered inland.
Crews lined up, as many as 20 wide, with round wire baskets on the end of long poles, scooping the material into white buckets. The material is then put into large “super sacks” and eventually transported to Clearview Landfill in Pelahatchie, Miss.
According to Steve Mangum, the Mississippi islands supervisor for BP, the winds play a large role in determining how much tar material can be seen and, ultimately, picked up.
“The northerly winds seems to do the uncovering, (and) the southerly winds appear to be uncovering the oil,” Mangum said. “With everything we do, from the actual work on the beach to getting crews in and out safely, it’s a huge factor.”
Mangum estimated that only 1 percent of what was being collected was washing up from the Gulf; that a vast majority of it has just been buried by layers of sand, moved around by the prevailing winds.
“When we leave shore every day coming out here, we have a plan,” Mangum said. “But the plan changes a lot of days by the time we get out here.”
Some sweeping grids on the islands have been cleaned as many as seven times, Mangum said, due to winds uncovering more tar balls and patties beneath what the crews may have already cleared.
Mangum also said that tar material was cleaned up from the inlet to Garden Pond on Horn Island in November and December. The Mississippi Press has previously reported on the oil infiltrating the marshes of the saltwater pond, home to a variety of marine life and fauna.
Melick said that crews were currently only monitoring the pond, due to its environmental sensitivity.