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Deepwater Horizon oil could take 'decades' to breakdown under Florida beaches

'It will sit there'
Posted at 6:32 PM, Sep 23, 2019
and last updated 2019-09-23 18:32:31-04

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- It may take decades before oil from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill has left Florida beaches.

Prof. Markus Huettel, who studies oceanography at Florida State, spent the last three years looking at oil samples from Pensacola. He discovered blobs, some as big as golf balls, are hiding around two feet under some Gulf Coast beaches.

The professor estimates it could take two more decades for the sandy clods to fully breakdown.

“If it’s not removed mechanically," Huettel said, "by storms or human activity— then it will sit there for at least three decades.”

While he said oil is too dilute to have any immediate health risks— long-term exposure could be a concern to animals or people. Impacts on Florida tourism might also be an issue.

“You sit down, you have a great time with your family," Huettel said. "Your little toddler sits there, digs up the sand and comes back with brown fingers. That is, of course, a nightmare.”

The good news, the professor said nature is well equipped to handle the stuff. Florida beaches, especially so. They act kind of like a sand filter used to clean drinking water. The tide also ensures an ample supply of oxygen.

Huettel said under different circumstances, it might have taken 100 years for the oil to biodegrade.

“Keep in mind, crude oil is a natural product," Huettel said. "Nature has all the tools to deal with that. Many microbes can degrade that oil.”

The Deepwater spill contaminated an estimated 600 miles of beaches along the Gulf. Most public areas were thoroughly cleaned before people returned to the area.