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Tar balls wash up on Del. beaches

By MOLLY MURRAY
Sussex Bureau reporter
04/01/2004

Gooey balls of tar have formed on area beaches after seven plastic drums leaking thick, black fuel oil washed ashore from Lewes to the south side of the Indian River Inlet.

The 55-gallon drums were recovered by state environmental officials and a contractor hired for the cleanup. The Coast Guard is investigating the incident.

So far, there have been no signs of oil-coated birds or other marine or wildlife, said Jamie Bethard, an environmental scientist with the state Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control and emergency response coordinator for the cleanup.

At the Children's Beach House, an environmental education center for special-needs youngsters along Delaware Bay in Lewes, maintenance man Mike Puffenbarger started noticing the black mixture of oil and tar on Monday.

"The kids were tracking it in" on the bottom of their shoes, he said.

About 30 youngsters stayed all night Tuesday for an environmental education program, and Puffenbarger said the tile floors in the building were covered with the tar mixture. He said he used products including Goo-Gone to clean up the mess.Bethard said the drums - all blue plastic with the lids cut off - have been recovered. There was one each from the south side of Indian River Inlet, Rodney Street in Rehoboth Beach, Cape Henlopen State Park Gordons Pond area, near the Biden Environmental Education Center and on the Atlantic Ocean side of Cape Henlopen Point.

Two drums were recovered on the Delaware Bay beach at Lewes.

Bethard said it would be unusual for anyone to store heavy fuel oil in 55-gallon drums made from plastic. Because the lids had been cut off, the drums had various amounts of fuel in them when they were recovered, he said. Some of the contents likely leaked out as the drums rolled around in the wind and waves, he said.

Bethard said the oil was No. 6 fuel oil, sometimes known as "bunker." The oil could be used as a fuel in ships, he said. "Typically, bunker would not be used in this style." Most ships store fuel oil in tanks and not 55-gallon drums.

Two Coast Guard units, four members of the Atlantic Strike Team and three from the Marine Safety Office in Philadelphia are investigating.

One of the first tasks will be to identify vessels that were traveling through the area in the last few days, said Lt. Becky Jones, with the Marine Safety Office Marine Environmental Protection Branch in Philadelphia.

Samples of the oil have been collected and will be tested at a Coast Guard Laboratory in Connecticut, said Petty Officer Justin Price, with the Marine Safety Detail at Lewes.

That will give investigators a chemical fingerprint of the oil that can be used to match it with potential sources, he said.


 

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Thanks for the article. It will be interesting to see what they discover.

Hmm, blue drums with tops cut off filled with bunker oil. The only thing I can think of is that lightering of oil tankers takes place right in that area.
 
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