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Gulf residents track washed up gunk

New Orleans photographer Jerry Moran isn’t the only person who thinks chemical dispersants are still being sprayed in the Gulf of Mexico.

Last week, msnbc.com published a story on Open Channel documenting the apparent continued use of dispersants beyond the official cutoff date of July 19 by response teams working on the Gulf oil spill. Laboratory testing of samples from a large patch of reddish foam found floating near Horn Island, off the coast of Mississippi, on Aug. 9 found that the foam was indeed composed of chemical dispersant and BP oil.

The documentation lent credence to anecdotal reports from coastal residents that use of the controversial chemicals did not cease in mid-July, as the Joint Command for the oil spill maintains.

The previous Open Channel post prompted a submission by reader Shirley Tillman, who lives in the coastal town of Pass Christian, Miss.  Tillman, 60, has been walking the beach for years, and worked with her husband on a “vessel of opportunity” in the clean-up effort until mid-August.

Since mid-July she has been photographing dead wildlife and gunk washing ashore. She feels certain the latter is dispersed BP oil.


“When the tide is coming in, this stuff starts washing up,” said Tillman. “It’s white fluffy, foamy stuff —kind of like a meringue. This stuff clings together … like snot.”

The photographs below, which she says were taken on the beach at Gulfport on Dec. 29, show what she is talking about.

Shirley Tillman

Foam on a beach near Pass Christian, Miss. on Dec. 29. Photographer and local resident Shirley Tillman believes it is oil and dispersant.

According to the official account of the oil spill response, about 1.8 million gallons of the dispersant were applied to break up the oil slick -- about two-thirds sprayed on the surface by boats and planes and the rest injected near the broken wellhead about a mile beneath the surface.

Shirley Tillman

Sand on a beach in Pass Christian, Miss. The red gunk resembles dispersed oil, according to photographer and local resident Shirley Tillman.

Tillman doesn’t buy the Joint Command’s insistence that the use of dispersants has been halted, and she is not alone in her belief that nighttime air traffic over the gulf is due to dispersant spraying by C-130 aircraft, which also were used during the initial response.

“The air traffic is constant,” she said. Her theory:  “Spotter planes go out during the day, write down the problem spots are. … Then you can sit on the beach at night and watch (C-130s) going back and forth.”

Unlike Moran’s goo, the gunk sighted by Tillman has not been laboratory tested to verify her suspicions that it is oil mixed with dispersant. Tillman said she is trying to get chemical testing for the samples she has retrieved from her beach.

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