Tar balls off Key West to be tested
KEY WEST, Fla. (WSVN) -- NOAA officials are sending some tar balls found off Key West Monday for further testing to see if they originated from the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
The Coast Guard picked up the 20 tar balls along a Key West beach and sent them to NOAA for examination. "The tar balls that washed ashore in the Florida Keys, when that happened, we immediately deployed teams to collect those tar balls," said NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco over the phone. "They are currently en route to a Coast Guard marine safety lab in Connecticut for analysis.'
Lubchenco said her organization has collected tar balls from Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida since the spill. "I think it's useful to note that some of them have been associated with the BP Deep Horizon spill," she said, though further testing needs to be done to determine whether a link exists with the Key West tar balls and the Gulf spill.
If experts verify the connection, officials fear this could indicate that the oil slick that resulted from the platform fire off Louisiana last month might head into the Keys by the end of the week.
The State Emergency Operations Center is aware of this discovery and has been fully briefed on the report of the tar balls being found in the Keys. However, officials caution, tar balls can often be found in the Keys from an array of sources, and it has not impacted their tourist industry.
Monroe County Mayor Sylvia Murphy said tar balls have been found in the Keys for years now due to a number of fuel incidents. "We have no oil here," she said. "We have no damage here. We have no ecological damage here, so the big worry right now is what do people think."
However, the concern remains that the sheens of oil could hit the Loop Current. A new computer tracking forecast shows oil reaching the Florida Keys in five days and possibly Miami in 10 due to this current. The forecast report was prepared by four experts relying on five computer models. "Some of the tragectory models are actually showing that the oil will begin to move in the next couple of days south-eastward, within the Gulf Stream," said Pablo Santos of NOAA.
Among the officials receiving the report was U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D.) of Florida. "While I always hope for the best, this is looking like really out-of-control bad," Nelson said Tuesday, referring to the widening spill and the research by the experts.
Meanwhile, fishermen in the Keys are concerned the panic over the tar balls will hurt their main business: tourism. Laine Goodwin a charter boat owner originally from Louisiana said, "If my customers don't come they don't stay at hotels, they don't go to restaurants to eat, they don't go to gift shops to buy. It really is a trickle down effect."
Local resident Alan Teitelbaum echoes the fear many in the area have over the spill's possible affect in the Keys. "I think it's a potential worst disaster that we have since the Exxon Valdez oil spill."
The Coast Guard asks anyone who finds suspicious tar balls on the shoreline to call 1-800-424-8802 and report the find, so they might test out their origin.
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