As Coast Guard crews were scouring the Louisiana coast looking for damage from Tropical Storm Karen this week, they made a startling discovery: A tar mat weighing 4,100 pounds, presumably remnants from the devastating BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010.
Petty Officer First Class Michael Anderson tells the Times-Picayune that the tar mat is a mixture of “80 percent to 90 percent sand, shell and water and 10 percent to 20 percent oil.” Crews are now working on cleaning up the mess, and will search nearby waters for any additional pollution.
Mats and balls of tar have continued to wash up on gulf shores, despite the more than three years that have passed since a rig explosion left oil spewing into the gulf’s waters and spawned the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history. And, in comparison, this one isn’t that big. In June, officials discovered a massive 40,000 pound mat — a collection that BP reported was in addition to the over 2.7 million pounds of tar collected at that point in 2013.
But despite the lasting impact that BP’s oil spill has had on the region, the company discontinued its regular searches for remaining oil earlier this year.
The scope of damage from this tar isn’t entirely clear. What is known is that tar from the Deepwater spill contains the bacteria Vibrio vulnificus — which causes a deadly type of seafood contamination — at a rate 100 times higher than surrounding waters. On top of that, a combination of these tar balls and the dispersants that were used to clean up the spill can hold carcinogenic pollutants that are soaked up by human skin.