AUBURN – The April 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and the waves of tar balls deposited on the beaches shortly thereafter prompted the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to produce a tar ball fact sheet. Among the factoids was one stating that those sticky, coin-sized clumps of weathered oil, though unsightly and annoying, are not a human health hazard.
But new research findings out of Auburn University indicate that tar balls are reservoirs for a multitude of bacteria, including at least one pathogen that can cause life-threatening sickness in some humans.
AUBURN – Auburn University civil engineering faculty members have completed a preliminary study related to tar balls found on Alabama’s beaches after Tropical Storm Lee.
Prabhakar Clement, Feagin professor, Joel Hayworth, associate research professor and Vanisree Mulabagal, research associate, of the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering, found that the chemical signature of tar mat fragments that appeared on Alabama’s beaches after Tropical Storm Lee in early September, is essentially the same as that of the oil from the BP Deepwater Horizon event that impacted Alabama’s beaches in June 2010.
The study also indicates that oil submerged offshore has not substantially changed, from a chemical perspective, from that of the oil which arrived on the beach more than a year prior. It shows that the tar mat samples are indeed related to the BP Deepwater Horizon event. Submerged oil may continue to pose some level of long-term risk to near-shore ecosystems.
View the team’s study at http://eng.auburn.edu/files/acad_depts/civil/oil-spill-research.pdf.
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