BP oil still assaulting Gulf beaches, getting more toxic


More than three years after the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico, BP’s spilled oil is continuing to assault Louisiana’s beaches — and now we have lab tests showing that these giant tar mats are more toxic than ever.

There’ve been some reports out of the region regarding three separate episodes in which these tar mats have come on shore on Isle Grand Terre, an island barrier and critical wetland in the Gulf waters south of New Orleans.  In the worst of the three events, officials discovered an oily tar mat that was 165 feet long and 65 feet wide that had come ashore in an island marsh. Think about that — a blob of oil half the size of a high school football field!

State officials — even before carrying out the work  of chemically fingerprinting the tar mat — pinned the blame on BP and its massive spill of 5 million barrels of oil into the Gulf some 39 months ago. They said the toxic petroleum in the water posed a significant enough threat that they’ve banned commercial fishing in the waters around Isle Grand Terre indefinitely — a move that has drawn howls of protest from BP because it puts the lie to the multi-million-dollar ad claims that everything is hunky-dory.

“The seemingly endless appearance of new oil that was dumped by BP into the Gulf of Mexico more than three years ago leaves us with no choice but to close these areas,” said Wildlife and Fisheries Secretary Robert Barham. “The identification of several tar mats along Grand Terre triggered the recent closure.”

We wanted to know more, and so recently the team of environmental experts who’s worked closely with my law firm, SmithStag LLC, ever since the beginning of the BP crisis in 2010 obtained some samples for more rigorous lab testing. The people at the Louisiana Environmental Action Network, or LEAN, collected samples from the tar mat and shipped them to our consultant, Marco Kaltofen of the Boston Chemical Group. Here’s part of his report:

The test results are astonishing and depressing.  Samples of all three tar mats show what proved to be 100 percent undiluted petroleum product. While the volatile hydrocarbons have evaporated or dissolved in the sea water, what’s left behind is worse than ever. 

The tar mat sample contained the highest level of toxic and persistent polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) that the team has ever found in Louisiana waters since the BP spill began in April 2010.  The PAH level was three times higher than any other sample tested from Louisiana to Florida throughout the life of this oil spill.  The tar mat is particularly rich in the most toxic of the cancer-causing PAHs, including the benzo(a)pyrene, a known animal carcinogen and probable human carcinogen.

This data tells us that the end stage weathered crude oil is leaving behind a superconcentrated mess of the most toxic components of the original crude.  Ironically, the tar mat has almost no smell, but is far more toxic than the first tar balls that washed up in Grand Isle back in May of 2010.  Beach goers are strongly advised not to handle these tar mats under any circumstances.

It’s important to note a couple of things here. For one thing, initial news reports suggested the tar mats were just 15 percent oil, but Marco Kaltofen’s research shows that the concentration is much greater, and more toxic, than what’s being reported in the media. Beyond that, let us put this in the context of current events. BP is spending millions of dollars on ads seeking to convince would-be tourists that things in the Gulf are better than ever, when clearly this is not the case. Beyond that, BP was also in court earlier this week trying to argue that it’s getting taken for a ride by excessive claims in its settlement of legal damages from the 2010 spill. But here’s more evidence that just the opposite is true: We actually can’t know the full cost of BP’s recklessness because the crisis isn’t over yet, not by a long shot.

To find out more about the recent shutdown of commercial fishing around Isle Grand Terre because of BP oil pollution, please read:  http://www.houmatoday.com/article/20130703/articles/130709834?p=1&tc=pg

© Smith Stag, LLC 2013 – All Rights Reserved

1 comment

  • good coverage on this report SHS.

    I read your blog daily.. this is my concentration at LSU- Environmental Analysis & Risk Management. I want to help environmental sensitive areas as my profession. Keep us updated on other reports of tar mounds in the different Louisiana Gulf areas.

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

Follow Us

© Stuart H Smith, LLC
Share This