On June 10, the Emerald Coast Chapter was one of the first local volunteer organizations to begin a Gulf Beach Water Quality Monitoring Program in response to the minimal efforts made by state and federal agencies to monitor against the dangers of the BP oil spill. Local surfers and swimmers have suffered from burning eyes and mouths, respiratory problems, nose bleeds and have developed toxic exposure rashes since the spill. They wanted to know what is in the water that might be causing these symptoms. The program provided opportunities for greater local public participation in Gulf beach clean-up efforts with a hands-on educational component.
Two years later, oil pollution in the Gulf continues to be is a moving target. While BP has tried to pick up tarballs or tilled them into finer pieces, most of the oil that has come to shore has been seeping into the beach sand on which we sit and play. Current government testing programs results do not provide enough information to the public to truly determine if Gulf beaches are clean enough for family or individual needs. Our monthly independent testing provided an alternate source of information that contradict agency testing results regarding the presence or absence of oil contamination on our beaches.
Below is a summary of the report’s top findings:
- The data collected confirms that Corexit dispersant mixed with crude oil creates a discernible fluorescent signature when illuminated by 370nm wavelength (UV) light.
- The use of Corexit as a dispersant has inhibited the microbial degradation of hydrocarbons in the crude oil and has allowed Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAH) concentration levels to consistently exhibit high toxicity levels in excess of the carcinogenic exposure level specified by NIH and OSHA.
- Of the 32 sampling sites, mainly in Florida and Alabama, 26 had PAH concentration levels exceeding the established carcinogenic exposure limits. In only three locations, samples were found to be free of PAH contamination.
- Seventy-one samples were collected. Twenty-three were tested for oil range organics and 16 exceeded the target clean up levels specified by the EPA. Of the 48 samples submitted for PAH tests, 90% of the samples had contamination levels in excess of the carcinogenic exposure limit.
- Tar product remaining in the coastal zone contains PAH levels likely to be toxic (levels > 80mg/kg). Wet skin dermal contact and absorption of tar product was documented. This unknown risk for human health and safety should be further studied.
- Carcinogenic PAH compounds from the toxic tar product that concentrates in surface layers from natural beach processes was found to be leaching into the lower layers of beach sediment. One researcher’s published scientific results concluded this could lead to the contamination of local groundwater sources.
The program uses newly developed UV light equipment to detect the tar product and reveal where it is buried in many beach areas and also where it still remains on the surface in the shoreline plunge step area. The tar product samples are then analyzed using GCMS testing methods to determine which toxins may be present and at what concentrations. By returning to locations several times over the past year and analyzing samples, we have been able to determine that the PAH concentrations in most locations are not degrading as hoped for and expected.
The “State of the Beach” oil trend study was conducted by the Surfrider Foundation Emerald Coast Chapter and University of South Florida coastal geologist Rip Kirby. The study was primarily funded by the Surfrider Foundation, grants from Patagonia, O’Neill, and the Norcross Foundation and by personal donations.
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