from the sarasota herald-tribune
From a distance the toxic goo looks like oil, but up close it smells like rotten eggs and wiggles like jelly. Scientists have no idea what it is or how it wound up in the northern Gulf of Mexico, near Perdido Pass.
Just off the Florida Panhandle coastline, within site of Perdido Key, scientists have discovered an underwater mass of dead sea life that appears to be growing as microscopic algae and bacteria get trapped and die.
Early samples indicate the glob is at least three feet thick and spans two-thirds of a mile parallel to the coast.
No one knows where it came from or where it will go.
Scientists are trying to determine if oil from last year’s Deepwater Horizon disaster led to the glob. But tests so far have found no sign of oil.
“It seems to be a combination of algae and bacteria,” said David Hollander, a chemical oceanographer with the University of South Florida, describing the substance as “extraordinarily sticky” and toxic.
While scientists have drawn no conclusions about the gooey mat’s origin, they are not ruling out a potential connection to the oil spill. Oil gummed and slicked that part of the Gulf for 30 to 40 days during the three-month well gusher, which pumped 186 million to 227 million gallons of crude into the Gulf.
“We don’t know all the ramifications, the implications of a spill like this,” Hollander said.
He and other scientists plan to return to the glob in a few weeks for more samples. The equipment available on the last cruise was not long enough to reach the bottom of the mat. The bottom sediments could hold important clues about how the glob formed. The scientists also did not have the time or equipment to map out the entire blob.
Gulf oil spill cleanup workers report medical problems; lawsuit filed
Gary Stewart of Mobile grew up on the water. After the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig and the subsequent oil spill, the company he captained a boat for signed on to help with the cleanup. He didn’t know until the day he left for a 28-day assignment that his boat would be spreading a chemical dispersant near the site of the destroyed oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico. For more than a month, he says, he worked and lived without a respirator.
Ricky Thrasher of Orange Beach answered an ad on Craigslist and got himself on a shrimping boat that was rounding up oil in the Vessels of Opportunity program. He saw it as a chance to do some good, and make some good money.
“I was out there for six days, and I had to call them to come get me, I was so sick,” Thrasher said. He’s still sick. Among his list of symptoms are as many as 16 bowel movements a day.
Robyn Hill of Foley worked as a greeter of sorts to the tourists on Gulf Shores’ beaches. It was the greatest job, she said. After the oil began coming ashore, the tourists had to share the beach with environmentalists, hazardous materials teams and the media. But her job didn’t change.
“We were still in our shorts and T-shirts, greeting people.”
Until she passed out on the beach one day in June.
They didn’t have much in common before last year. Now Stewart, Thrasher and Hill are unemployed, uninsured, in debt and in pain. They say they can’t work; they can barely function.
They say they used to be healthy. Now they’re not.
They say they had no clue what they were working with and were being exposed to during the oil spill cleanup process.
And they want someone to make it right — to make them right.
The three are now part of a multidistrict litigation filed in U.S. District Court in New Orleans. Plaintiffs are asking for compensatory and punitive damages and medical screening and monitoring. Defendants include BP, which owned the oil well and was leasing the Deepwater Horizon rig, Transocean Ltd., which owned the rig, and Nalco Co., the company from which BP purchased chemical dispersants to use in the cleanup.