PBS NewsHour reports that more than 210,000 gallons of oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico every day after the Deepwater Horizon ruptured in 2010. A lot of this oil made it to the shores of many beaches surrounding the gulf. National Geographic reported that despite massive cleanup efforts, tar balls and oil patties were still being found two feet deep off the coast of Florida by a team from the University of South Florida. Oil and sand pollution affects humans, mammals, soil and marine life for many years.
The research done by the team from USF suggested that even after an oil spill cleanup, the effects of the oil spill can harm beach-goers and wildlife because oil-filled sand can remain below clean sand. Buried oil remains much longer than surface oil because of the natural breakdown of the oil deposits.
For example, as of the publication date the subsurface oil still remains in the sand from the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska in 1989. Each time a storm occurs along the beaches, new oil patties or tar balls surface and a new oil cleanup is required along the beaches.
The effects of oil spills and sand pollution on humans still requires more study. Experts from National Geographic state that oil can cause skin rashes, eye irritation and skin poisoning. Inhaling the evaporating oil from the oil found under the sand can cause headaches, nausea and even dizziness. None of these symptoms seem to have prolonged effects, but, again, more study is required to determine whether major oil spills present long-term health hazards to humans.
The research done by USF shows many problems with the wildlife surrounding the sands where oil pollution has occurred. Seabirds eat sand-dwelling bloodworms and other sand organisms. Sea turtles bury their eggs in underground sand nests. Both these creatures can be harmed and have their reproduction limited because of the oil and sand pollution. Many experts say that oil-coated birds are better off dead, according to an article in National Geographic. A German expert stated that 99 percent of the rehabilitated birds will die because of the massive exposure to oil.
The marine ecosystem evolves, but oil and sand pollution affects this ecosystem beyond what any scientist can detect. It is known that many fish, micro-organisms, underwater plant life and other parts of the marine ecosystem die because of the oil pollution. The extent of the damage is still being studied by many universities and scientists, but a dramatic loss of marine life makes the recovery of this ecosystem take longer, creating other problems.
Any time there is an oil spill which creates sand pollution, the economy of the affected area suffers. The area's economic repercussions spread out to other parts of the country that depend on a coastal economy such as seafood restaurants and distributors. A lot of people vacation at coastal communities and when the beaches or waters of that community are polluted, the tourism industry takes a major downturn in that area. Until a proper cleanup is performed, polluted areas of the country will suffer economically.
- Mongabay: Oil Sands Pollution in Canada; Jeremy Hance; December 7, 2009
- Earth Science Club of Northern Illinois: Oil Sand Pollution
- Landviser: Electrical Geophysical Methods to Evaluate Soil Pollution from Gas and Oil Mining
- National Geographic: Oil Found in Gulf Beach Sand, Even After Cleanups; Christine Dell'Amore; July 2010
- American University: Oil Production and Environmental Damage
- PBS Newshour: How Much Oil Has Leaked Into the Gulf of Mexico?; Chris Amico; May 9, 2010
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