What's really in the beach water?

August 3, 2010 12:02:58 PM PDT
There hasn't been new oil leaking from the Deepwater Horizon well for more than two weeks and BP is letting thousands of cleanup workers go from beaches where there isn't oil washing up. But what has the water left behind? We started these tests a few weeks ago when oil was washing up on the Gulf Coast from Florida's panhandle and the way to Galveston. We took samples to an independent lab to find out just how safe your beaches are.

It's been hard to believe your eyes this summer. Unspeakable images of oil soaked coastlines and beaches coated with crude. Some beaches closed. Others open but with severe warnings to 'avoid swimming wading or entering the water' -- warnings that aren't always followed.

Mother Susan Chiasson said, "I am concerned, but it's kids and it's summer and I don't want to take that away from them."

We got lucky finding Chiasson and her kids on Pensacola Beach.

She said, "These tarry blobs are everywhere."

Chiasson knows the potential danger. She's a scientist and while her kids were swimming, she was picking up tar ball samples. She wanted to know the same thing we did -- just what's out there. Our tests reveal this summer you really can't believe what your eyes are telling you.

We visited Pensacola Beach on the Fourth of July weekend. Just a few days before the beach was covered with oil. But by the holiday it was open and people were swimming. But did they really know what's in the water?

To figure it out we teamed up with environmental testing expert Rhett Farrell and fanned out to test Gulf Coast beaches from Galveston to Gulf Shores and beyond. We tested Galveston both before tar balls rolled up and after and we went east as far as Pensacola.

There's oil out there somewhere, we could see skimmers just off shore, but we really wanted to know what's close to the beach. So we took all the samples to the lab where they scientifically took the water apart to find out what was there.

What the lab found after looking through our water from oiled beaches, some samples from locations where waves washed up with an unusual brown tint feet from pools of oily water and huge tar balls, really surprised us. No signs of oil or its components or that dispersant in any of the water. None in Galveston, Gulf Shores or Pensacola.

[ READ THE FULL GULF WATER ANALYSIS REPORT FINDINGS ]

It's great news for beach goers and all those businesses that depend on them. We've got a month left of summer and even with all that oil out there, there isn't even a trace in the beach water we tested. But how could it be?

Back on the beach, before we knew what the tests would show Susan Chiasson predicted that seeing oil spoiling beaches doesn't mean it's spoiling the water -- and she was right.

"This is mainly just nasty and it sticks to you and it's unlikely to be really, really toxic," she said.

Our results are in line with the government is finding -- that it's safe to swim in the gulf.


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