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Tar balls still turning up from Huntington Beach oil sheen

Offshore recovery assets put in place to deal with an oil sheen off the coast of Huntington Beach are being demobilized after a flyover Sunday did not observe any sheen, however shoreline cleanup teams continue to observe tar balls along the beaches, and at least two birds have died, authorities said.    

The roughly 2.5-mile-long oil sheen was spotted in the ocean water Thursday evening. Monitoring and cleanup efforts are being handled by a Unified Command consisting of the U.S. Coast Guard, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Office of Spill Prevention and Response and the Orange County Sheriff’s Department.

Flyovers Saturday and Sunday morning by a Coast Guard helicopter did not observe any sheen offshore. Cleanup crews recovered approximately 85 gallons of product from offshore recovery and removed about 800 pounds of oily waste and tar balls from the shoreline and will continue to remove them as needed, according to the Unified Command.

The largest tar ball was 15 centimeters but others were six centimeters, the Coast Guard’s Richard Uranga told City News Service on Saturday.

No beach closures were ordered, but the public was advised to avoid contact with tar balls along the shoreline.    

The CDFW-OSPR consulted with the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, which found that there is not likely to be a public health threat associated with consuming fish due to the incident, but officials advised against fishing in areas with a visible sheen on the water.

Wildlife crews were surveying the shoreline for oiled wildlife, and found at least three live birds who were visibly oiled: a Brandt’s cormorant, a common loon and a western grebe. The cormorant died in care overnight, officials said. An injured, unoiled snowy plover who was captured also died overnight.

Beachgoers observing oiled wildlife were advised not to attempt to capture the animals, but to report observations to 1-877-UCD-OWCN (1-877-823-6926).

The Coast Guard’s Sector Los Angeles-Long Beach Command Center said it received a report at 6:50 p.m. Thursday of an unknown substance in the water 1.5 miles off the coast of Huntington Beach.

Coast Guard Pollution Responders got underway at 6:30 a.m. Friday with a Newport Harbor Patrol boat to investigate. A Coast Guard helicopter also conducted an overflight in the area at sunrise. Upon investigation, an oil sheen was discovered that spanned 2.5 miles in length and a half-mile in width, roughly 2.8 miles off Huntington Beach near platforms Emmy and Eva, according to the Coast Guard.

Approximately 85% of the sheen, roughly 85 gallons of product, was recovered before the deteriorating sea state caused operations to pause for the evening, the Unified Command announced at 8:19 p.m. Friday.    

The cause of the sheen was still being investigated.

“For clarification, reports that Platform Elly reported a discharge of produced water on the morning of March 8 are correct,” the Unified Command said Saturday. “Still, the characteristics of the produced water from Platform Elly do not align with what was observed from the sheen. At this time, we do not believe the sheen and the discharge are related.”

Orange County Supervisor Katrina Foley visited Dog Beach in Huntington Beach on Friday and got some of the tar on her shoes, but she said the problem appears to be contained.

“It’s contained is what I understand, but they’re still investigating and the good news is we have all the resources out there,” Foley said. “And they’ll get it cleaned up quickly.”

Foley said regular Dog Beach visitors reported the tar balls were worse than usual.

Meanwhile, the Orange County Health Care Agency warned beach visitors about touching the tar balls.

“Contact with crude oil can pose health risks,” said Dr. Regina Chinsio-Kwong, County Health Officer. “Residents and visitors are advised to take caution in affected areas  and to avoid touching visible tar.”

Crude oil poses a risk of skin contact contamination and may emit volatile components into the air, including toxic chemicals, the HCA’s Environmental Health Division said. Prolonged exposure to these substances can lead to health issues including skin, eye, nose and throat irritation, headache, dizziness, upset stomach, vomiting and coughing or shortness of breath. People with preexisting respiratory conditions such as asthma, as well as the elderly and children are particularly vulnerable to adverse effects from inhaling oil vapors.

An oil spill in the same general area in 2021 led to reforms that appear to have improved the response, Foley said.

“We have a better system in place now,” Foley said. “Everybody is all coordinated now — better than they were before so they got a quick response out there.”

Source: NBC Los Angeles

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