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March 30 2012

15:45

Deadly Bacteria Found In Gulf Coast Tar Balls

Since the very first tar balls began rolling onshore along the Gulf of Mexico following 2010’s Deepwater Horizon oilrig explosion and subsequent underwater oil geyser, the oil industry told us to relax because those tar balls were completely harmless. But as we approach the two year anniversary of the disaster, new studies have confirmed that the tar balls we’re seeing along our beaches contain bacteria that are capable of killing human beings.

The new study, conducted by scientists at Auburn University, confirmed the presence of a bacteria called Vibrio vulnificus. According to researchers, this is the same bacteria that is responsible for causing illness and death from eating bad oysters. The tar balls contained concentrations of this bacteria more than 100 times greater than the surrounding water. The Centers for Disease Control says the following regarding Vibrio vulnificus:
  

Wound infections may start as redness and swelling at the site of the wound that then can progress to affect the whole body. V. vulnificus typically causes a severe and life-threatening illness characterized by fever and chills, decreased blood pressure (septic shock), and blood-tinged blistering skin lesions (hemorrhagic bullae). Overall, V. vulnificus infections are fatal about 40% of the time. Wound infections with V. vulnificus are fatal about 20% of the time, and aggressive surgical treatment can prevent death.

Persons who have immunocompromising conditions and especially persons with chronic liver disease are particularly at risk for V. vulnificus infection when they eat raw or undercooked seafood, particularly shellfish harvested from the Gulf of Mexico, or if they bathe a cut or scrape in marine waters. About three-quarters of patients with V. vulnificus infections have known underlying hepatic disease or other immunocompromising illness. Otherwise healthy persons are at much lower risk of V. vulnificus infection.
 

It is important to remember that this isn’t a fleeting threat to those of us who live, work, and play along the Gulf Coast. National Geographic recently pointed out that tarballs are continuously washing up along the coasts of the Gulf of Mexico, meaning that the threat of bacterial infection is not only real, but it is persistent. And with Spring Break season in high gear, beaches along the Gulf Coast are currently inundated with out of state families playing and relaxing on top of these toxic bacteria balls.

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February 02 2012

23:11

Waterkeeper Groups Sue Over Gulf Oil Leak Gushing For Seven Years And Counting

Like many Gulf Coast residents, I was highly skeptical when both the media and the Coast Guard told us that the tar balls we were seeing wash up on our shores in the months following the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster were not from BP’s oil geyser at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico. If they weren’t from the massive leak caused by BP, Halliburton, and TransOcean, then where were these tar balls coming from? While we might not know the clear answer to that question, we do have a new suspect.

According to a lawsuit filed this week by the Waterkeeper Alliance and their Gulf Coast affiliates, there is a smaller oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico off the Louisiana coast that has been flowing nonstop for almost seven and a half years. While nowhere near as large as the oil leak from the Deepwater Horizon disaster – the lawsuit estimates the current leak to be releasing a few hundred gallons of oil per day – the fact that it has been flowing for more than seven years allows plenty of time for hundred of thousands, if not low millions, of gallons of oil to be released into the waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

However, the energy company responsible for the leak – Taylor Energy – says that only about 14 gallons of oil are leaking per day. The Waterkeeper Alliance is basing their analysis on the size and scope of visible oil sheens, similar to how the flow rate was determined for the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

The lawsuit alleges that Taylor Energy is responsible for allowing oil to flow into the Gulf, a direct violation of the Clean Water Act. They are seeking civil penalties in the amount of $37,500 per day that the oil has been leaking, the maximum possible penalty for such violations under the Act.

So how has an oil leak managed to go undetected, or at least unreported, for the better part of a decade? That’s one of the questions the lawsuit is hoping to answer.

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