MA oil cleanup continues

Residents around Buzzard's Bay, Mass., are discovering that an oil spill is not a simple mess to clean up.

BY TRAVIS DUNN | BALTIMORE | July 9, 2003


Residents around Buzzard's Bay, Mass., are discovering that an oil spill is not a simple mess to clean up.

Oil that poured from a ruptured tanker here in April affected more than 90 miles of coastline, and it will take thousands of workers several years to bring the beaches back to normal.

The environmental impact assessment alone will take at least two years, said Lisa Pelstring with the Damage Assessment Center of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Silver Spring, Md.

Meanwhile people whose income depends on the shellfish industry are facing an ongoing financial burden. Just after the spill, shellfishing in the bay was entirely shut down for nearly a month due to initial precautionary closures.

The bay's $4 million shellfish industry usually accounts for one quarter of the state's shellfish profits.

More than half the bay some 90,000 acres has been reopened but fishermen are still barred from working in the more dirty areas.

Initial cleanup involved setting up setting up booms, or floating fences, that redirected oil to certain areas where it could be more easily collected, said Steve Lehmann, the NOAA science liaison to the cleanup project.

The work on the beaches required special equipment, such as huge vacuum-cleaner trucks and "pom-poms," small polystyrene balls that absorb many times their weight in oil.

A 1,000-person cleanup crew has thinned out to about a 150, Lehmann said. That fact doesn't mean the beaches are anywhere close to being squeaky clean, but it does mean "many of the beaches have signed off" on being mostly decontaminated.

"We're doing quite a bit of sampling right now to measure the contamination of this spill," added Frank Sulac, coordinator of the NOAA assessment team.

He and his team have found more than 500 dead birds, he said, which is just a fraction of all the birds killed by the slick.

This spill may have more of an environmental impact than a crude-oil slick, according to a Web site run by Buzzards Bay Project of the National Estuary Program, since the slick here was composed entirely of No. 6 fuel oil.

"No. 6 fuel oil can be very adverse to wildlife, and...bird mortality is relatively high compared to other oils...Two species of Loon account for half of the bird deaths, but 29 species are represented among the birds killed," according to a report posted on the site.


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Buzzards Bay Project of the National Estuary Program Web site

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