EXCLUSIVE TEST RESULTS: Sample from Breton Islands Proves Highly Toxic Hydrocarbons Remain on Gulf Beaches


If there was ever any doubt that BP’s “cleanup” would be a monumental failure, we now have the scientific data to prove our allegations and to support our calls for additional cleanup efforts.

In late March 2011, Paul Orr and his team from the Lower Mississippi Riverkeeper conducted a 50-mile boat patrol and sampling tour of Breton Sound, which lies just off the southeast coast of Louisiana. The excursion was triggered by sightings of oil in the area by fishermen and others, including pilot Bonny Schumaker and her nonprofit group On Wings of Care.

During the trip, Mr. Orr took a sample from the southern end of Breton Island National Park – and the test results are in. But before diving into the findings, I should note that this string of islands is home to the Breton National Wildlife Refuge, a federally owned bird sanctuary established by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1904. Nearly two dozen species of seabirds and shorebirds make frequent visits to the refuge, and more than 10 species nest on the various Breton islands. So clearly this is an area where beach cleanup should have been a high priority. But no such luck.

From Paul Orr:

By the time we made it to Breton Island the skies had cleared and the sun was shining brightly. The island was alive with spectacular flocks of birds. The spring bird migration is in full swing in coastal Louisiana. Unfortunately the birds were sharing the island with oil. Long trails of heavily oiled sand and scattered tarballs were found spread along the center of the island. The larger oil “patties” were 10 to 12 or more inches in diameter and looked like dark brown sugar with extra molasses mixed in on the inside but smelled like tar.

The beach sample Mr. Orr and his team took is remarkable, according to civil engineer Marco Kaltofen, because it contains crude oil that appears only slightly weathered – a puzzling finding in light of the fact that the Macondo Well was capped last July. The test results on the recent sample (taken March 28) look more like those from original oil seen in the early days of the spill, instead of the heavily weathered and degraded oil we’ve come to expect in recent days. But again, multiple observers reported on-the-surface oil slicks at the time of sampling.

The entire laboratory report from ALS Environmental is 20 pages of some of the most technically proficient data we’ve seen since the beginning of the spill in April of last year (see report below). The total petroleum hydrocarbons in the beach sands were present at 49,373 PPM (or parts per million). Total polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) were found at more than 58 PPM. These PAHs are among the most toxic and persistent of the components of the BP oil spill.

According to veteran toxicologist Dr. William Sawyer:

Benzo(a)pyrene and benzo(b)fluoranthene levels in this sediment from Breton Islands are above the USEPA RSLs (without even adding all of the carcinogen TEQs together). And BP has completed their “cleanup”? Certainly high potential for bioaccumulation into commercial seafood, reproduction impairment (oysters) and human contact hazards. This sample on land would require remediation as it is no cleaner than highly contaminated oil field properties.

A forensic analysis was conducted on this sample to fingerprint the material in order to determine if it was BP Macondo Well oil. Eleven of thirteen known biomarkers for BP’s oil were found in the proper diagnostic ratio. Thus, this sample is a fingerprint match for BP oil.

The high levels of toxicity we found in this March 28 Breton Island beach sample have renewed our dedication to demanding a complete cleanup of our beaches, barrier islands, shoreline and marshes. We must hold BP accountable. Everything from human health to seafood safety to the healthy migration and nesting of seabirds hangs in the balance.

Here are the sample and test results:

Breton Island National Park – Sampling and Testing Data
Sampled by Paul Orr, Lower Mississippi Riverkeeper
Breton Island, Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana
March 28, 2011 at 14:10
LATITUDE:  29.492667°
LONGITUDE: -89.171501°
Sample ID: DWH663B/LMRK064
Tested by ALS Environmental in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

Read more about the important work of the Lower Mississippi Riverkeeper, and its parent the Louisiana Environmental Action Network (LEAN): http://leanweb.org/

Read more about pilot Bonny Schumaker and the ongoing enviro efforts of On Wings of Care: http://www.onwingsofcare.org/

© Smith Stag, LLC 2011 – All Rights Reserved


  • The only truly safe and nontoxic solution that will remove the toxins and oil in the water,the marshes, beaches, and gestures is our oil digested, and it is already on the epa schedule. We can restore the Gulf! Now!

  • This is a link to my latest documentary video clip on you tube. It was filmed on Grand isle during and right after Spring break. Feel free to share it. There is an earlier clip on the Gulf Coast Leadership Forum question and answer session, which was cut short. More clips will be posted soon.

    Luanne Baker

  • Is this a surprise? BP totally ignored orders to cease spraying Corexit after the first “cleanup” as well as denied the volunteers any sort of protection from toxic exposure simply for the sake of appearances. They were also spray their Corexit well inland, at night, onto residential areas well away from any water! Now it’s back, shown to be far worse damage to the Gulf than was thought. People on the GOM are still being poisoned by BP’s carelessness, and their fake cleanup is destroying habitat after habitat, and even a breeze off the Gulf has proved fatal to humans unfortunate enough to breathe it! As for FOOD..! No one with an intact brain would chance eating Corexit or a Corexit/oil mix. And after 9-11 when volunteer helpers and First Responders were told by the EPA that the air was safe, who is fool enough to trust the government’s word about ANY food out of that water?

    BP is a criminal organization that needs to be brought to justice and to have it’s assets seized and used for REAL cleanup and rehabilitation on the Gulf, and for Americans who were harmed by Corexit, Gulf shrimp and fish, exposure to the water after it was declared “safe,” and the rest should go for compensation for the out-of-work victims who used to work in the Gulf and no longer can, again, due to the carelessness as well as the lies of BP!


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

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