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Oil Sheen, Tar Balls Turn Up in Lake Pontchartrain

Jul 7, 2010

Lake Pontchartrain, a body of water that borders New Orleans, has seen the first oil from the BP oil spill. According to a report in the Associated Press, oil sheen and tar balls have been spotted in the passes that lead to the lake, and in a section of Pontchartrain itself.

It is believed that the oil was pushed towards the 600-square-mile lake last week, when high surf from Hurricane Alex pushed more oil towards shore. The oil forced officials to close the lake’s eastern reaches to fishing Monday, though most of it remained open, the Associated Press said.

So far, the amount of oil in the lake remains small, and tests of seafood haven’t turned up contamination. But that’s small comfort for many Lake Pontchartrain enthusiasts who remember the massive effort to rescue the brackish body of water from pollution in the 1990s. Since the success of the restoration effort, Lake Pontchartrain has been a popular spot for fishing, swimming and boating. Now there are fears that all that could be lost to the BP oil spill.

Officials in New Orleans are taking steps to try to hinder the oil’s path into the lake. These include setting up barges to block passes leading into it. The Associated Press also reported that crews plan to lay 9,000 feet of special permeable booms. Tar nets were used to collect tar balls from marinas and docks. So far about 1,700 lbs of oil-laden waste have been collected from the lake, the Associated Press said.

Meanwhile in Texas, officials said that tar balls that washed up on a beach near Galveston and identified Monday as coming from the BP oil spill likely were brought into the area by a boat, The New York Times reported today. The tar balls were only slightly weathered, suggesting they had not drifted very far on their own. It is possible that the oil leaked from ship involved in spill clean up.

Ships are supposed to go through a decontamination station before reaching the coastlines, but that may not have happened in this case. An investigation is ongoing.

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