A Look at Tar Balls and Tar Mats

Revisiting the issue of BP’s tar balls and tar mats that keep washing up since the Deepwater Horizon debacle—

(2003) Trouble in the Columbia Riverbed:increasing radioactivity under the Hanford Reach (in Pacific NW near nuke dump superfund site)

(2012) Hurricane Isaac Churns Up Reminder of BP’s Damage to the Gulf of Mexico

” . . . . Tarballs and mats are showing up from Louisiana to Alabama, even forcing the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries to issue a closure for commercial fishing in the area of a large oil mat off Elmer’s Island.”

Stewart Smith (2014) – In-Depth: The Gulf Is Still Sick

” . . . visitors let out “a collective gasp” at the condition of the once vibrant island in Louisiana’s Baratria Bay. “Today the only green thing on the beach is a glass bottle,” it reported. “There are no pelicans, no mangroves, and worse, much of Cat Island itself is washing away. It and most of the barrier islands and marsh in Barataria Bay are steadily degrading, losing their battles with coastal erosion and subsidence faster than ever.” “

2010 – DoJ refutes BP:

BP & The Real State of the Gulf – Pollution Report for Friday, June 20, 2014

“Numerous Surface Residue Balls (SRBs or “tar balls”) were found throughout the area as well as a large submerged oil mat. These hardened balls are often filled with deadly, flesh-eating bacteria.”

Mother Jones (2010) – Did You Know Tar Balls Glow Orange Under UV Light?

” . . . the machines that drive around collecting sand in giant sifters that are supposed to collect the tar balls while redepositing the pretty white sand. “But the sifters are breaking up the tar balls and spreading them all over the place,” Kirby says. “This operation and the traffic are spreading the contamination everywhere.”

(2010) Evidence Refutes BP’s and Fed’s Deceptions

“In August, Truthout conducted soil and water sampling in Pass Christian Harbor, Mississippi; on Grand Isle, Louisiana; and around barrier islands off the coast of Louisiana, in order to test for the presence of oil from BP’s Macondo Well.

Laboratory test results from the samples taken in these areas show extremely high concentrations of oil in both the soil and water.

These results contradict consistent claims made by the federal government and BP since early August that much of the Gulf of Mexico is now free of oil and safe for fishing and recreational use.”

(2014) Study: Tar balls found in Gulf teeming with ‘flesh-eating’ bacteria

“The CDC data on vibriosis includes all vibrio species except cholera, so it’s unclear how much of the increase in the past five years is due to infection by the flesh-eating bacteria that can cause death.

One researcher who studies Vibrio vulnificus found it highly concentrated in tar balls that appeared along the Gulf Coast after the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill.”

NOAA says “Vibrio infections had risen “dramatically” in recent years, with a 78 percent increase between 1996 and 2006.”
Auburn Univ. says “Vibrio vulnificus was 10 times higher in tar balls than in sand and up to 10 times higher than in seawater.”
BP says “This is a naturally occurring bacteria found in the Gulf of Mexico. Neither the Alabama Department of Health nor the Centers for Disease Control have reported any significant increase in cases in the last three years and no individual case of vibrio infection has been linked to tar ball exposure.”

(2012) Deadly Bacteria Lurk in Deepwater Horizon Tar Balls

Stuart Smith (2011) – Chernobyl in the Gulf of Mexico

radRED88” . . .one of the stories that hasn’t made headlines is that in addition to the crude and toxic dispersants, the spill also released dangerous amounts of radioactive material into the Gulf.”

“. . . . Reports of unexplained health problems are soaring – and the primary suspects are the toxic compounds contained in BP’s oil and the chemical dispersants used to break down the crude. From flu-like symptoms to blindness to intense chest pain to severe sinus inflammation, people across the Gulf region are reporting debilitating illnesses in the wake of the spill.”

“The production of oil delivers several different waste streams into the environment in an uncontrolled release like the BP disaster. Besides the oil itself, highly toxic compounds are also present in the gas streams jettisoned from the well, including methane and hydrogen sulfide. A waste byproduct known as “produced water” is also simultaneously discharged with the oil and gases from the well. Every oil and gas formation, or reservoir, contains these waste streams.

The toxins associated with these streams can be broken down into three primary categories: (1) organic elements like benzene; (2) inorganic heavy metals including lead, chromium and cadmium; and (3) most important, naturally occurring radioactive material (NORM).

Radioactive elements such as radium, thorium and uranium are known byproducts of the oil production process. These toxic elements are extracted from the ground along with the oil and gas, and are separated from the fossil fuels as part of the production process. Once the NORM is extracted, it is flushed directly back into the ocean in the waste-stream byproduct known as produced water. Their discharge into the Gulf of Mexico has been a daily reality since the 1950s – but the amount that was released into the water from the runaway Macondo Well is unprecedented.

(2011) Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill Blog Gulf Seafood Radium Levels [ has notes and links on the bottom ]

“Due to lack of research, little is know about the effects of NORM exposure in the Gulf of Mexico and how it affects ocean life and humans. ”  radBottle_51

Dr. Busby’s report on the discharge of radioactive material into the Gulf is here:

(2010) Uranium and radioactivity content of the Macondo oil – Preliminary Note
By Chris Busby, PhD

Oil Uranium Final


(2012) Scientists Are One Step Closer To Extracting Uranium From Seawater

(2012) Auburn Univ. – Impact of Hurricane Isaac on Mobilizing Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Residues along Alabama’s Coastline – A Physicochemical Characterization Study

” . . . Lee data demonstrated the potential for remobilization of tar mats by similar storm events in the future.

(2013) Marine Pollution Bulletin – Chemical fingerprinting of petroleum biomarkers in Deepwater Horizon oil spill samples collected from Alabama shoreline

“We compare the chromatographic signatures of petroleum biomarkers in Deepwater Horizon (DH) source oil, three other reference crude oils, DH emulsified mousse that arrived on Alabama’s shoreline in June 2010, and seven tar balls collected from Alabama beaches from 2011 to 2012. Characteristic hopane and sterane fingerprints show that all the tar ball samples originated from DH oil.”

Vice News (2015) – Tar Balls, Disappearing Islands, and ‘Unexplained Mortality Events’: Five Years After the BP Disaster

“. . . Every hour, a football field’s worth of Louisiana’s rich coastal marsh gives way to the sea. Environmentalists often call it a “sacrifice zone,” an area written off in pursuit of profit.”
” . . . They didn’t talk a lot about some of the published studies that indicate a substantial fraction of that oil remains on the bottom, and it remains toxic,” he said. “They kind of dismissed that.”


8 thoughts on “A Look at Tar Balls and Tar Mats

  1. Pingback: Protests Against Federal Offshore Oil and Gas Auction at the New Orleans Superdome; Call for 100% Renewable Energy | Mining Awareness +

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