Tar Balls “as big as an apple” wash up in St. Augustine, FL


Tar Balls Show Up On St. Augustine Beach, WJXT Channel 4 Jacksonville, July 8, 2010:

It's the last thing tourist Pat Stuckey expected to see along St. Augustine Beach -- tar balls littering the shoreline, some as big as an apple.

"It could be a ship liner out there, somebody just disposing barrels. I don't know," Stuckey said. "It could be an oil leak, but whatever it is, this isn't good. I mean, this is going to continue to show up."

St. Johns County health officials confirmed the a small number of tar balls were found along the coast Thursday, but they said they do not believe the tar balls are oil globs from the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, which is located more than 1,000 miles away.

The United States Coast Guard is collecting a sample to send for testing, which is expected take three to five days.

Officials said the tar balls are quite weathered with no remaining petroleum in them. They are mostly paraffin or wax.

"I just think it's terrible, all the poor animals and everything," St. Augustine resident Meghan Hill said. "I just can't believe it. It's heartbreaking."

Health officials said the nonhazardous tar balls have been observed in isolated instances only and are entirely consistent with experiences in past years. None have been seen north of the St. Augustine Inlet.

The quantity is very low and officials do not expect any adverse impact on wildlife.

"More and more people need to get a sense of urgency of what's happening here and stop what they're doing, and let's find out where it's coming from and stop the oil from coming to shore," Stuckey said.

The northeast Florida region has experienced about 10 consecutive days of onshore wind, which is believed to have caused the tar balls to come ashore, along with higher than normal amounts of seaweed, officials said.

The county has experienced similar events of tar balls on the beach in the past under similar coastal conditions, officials said.

The United States Coast Guard is managing cleanup efforts, which were being conducted Thursday afternoon.

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