This past weekend, Louisiana Environmental Action Network technical supervisor Wilma Subra toured the banks of the Mississippi River through Orleans, St. Bernard and Plaquemines parishes to witness firsthand the effects of last week's devastating oil spill. She has posted her report to LEAN's website here.
Three days after Wednesday's accident, the broken barge was still in the river near New Orleans, propped up against a bridge and leaking fuel oil, she reports. Crews are still working to pump out the remaining oil and salvage the barge, a task that could take days, according to the Times-Picayune. However, the Coast Guard expects the river to be fully open to traffic today.
Meanwhile, booms that have been placed along the Mississippi's banks to keep the oil away are in many cases trapping the pollution against the shore, Subra says. The smell of petroleum hangs heavy over the entire river, the banks of which are coated with tarry oil, as seen in this LEAN photograph taken on the border of Orleans and St. Bernard parishes:
Of the more than 400,000 gallons of oil spilled, only about 72,000 gallons have been cleaned up so far, the Times-Picayune reports. As feared, the pollution is affecting local wildlife, like this oil-stained egret Subra photographed near the Oakville, La. community:
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services says it has reports of almost 100 oil-contaminated creatures. Besides egrets, they include ducks, herons, black vultures, beavers, muskrats and American alligators. Field teams are using propane cannons and large balloons resembling predators in an attempt to ward off birds. People who spot oiled wildlife are asked to call the agency's hotline at (504) 393-0353. A wildlife rehabilitation team has been set up in Venice, La.
As the disaster continues to play out, LEAN and the Lower Mississippi Riverkeeper are calling on state and federal agencies to take a number of urgent steps to protect environmental and public health. They include:
* make sure the environment is completely restored;
* assess the extent of environmental contamination and associated economic impacts over the short and long term;
* carefully examine drinking water taken from the Mississippi River downstream from the spill;
* monitor environmental damage -- and specifically effects to wetland ecosystems -- over the long term; and
* assess the disaster's implications for the Gulf of Mexico including its Dead Zone, an 8,000-square mile area off Louisiana's coast where pollution runoff has made life unsustainable.
To read Subra's full report and see more photos, click here. There are also photos of the incident at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's website.
(Photos from LEAN's website)