DEQ: Algae, not oil, in Bay of St. Louis

State environmental officials say a reddish-brown substance that coated miles of the Bay of St. Louis and the Mississippi Sound Sunday was a mixture of algae, fish oil, and diesel fuel, and was not believed to have been caused by the Deepwater Horizon well accident.

The Department of Environmental Quality released results of test samples Tuesday, concluding, “It does not appear to be related to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.” But some local officials remained skeptical.

The material was spotted coming into the bay in long ribbons Sunday afternoon. Much of it was caught on small oil booms just north of the Bay St. Louis Bridge, but a substantial amount went over or under the booms and swept farther north in the bay.

Then on Monday, a large number of fish were found dead in the bay’s northern portion, Mayor Les Fillingame said.

He believes the material likely was spill related – perhaps caused by the thousands of gallons of dispersants being used to break up oil spurting from the broken BP well.

“I can’t hang my hat on that, but I can’t for the life of me figure out what else it would be related to. We would almost have to suspect that it’s related to this event somehow,” the mayor said.

The announcement by MDEQ came after tests were run on samples of the material by government and private sector scientists. In a release, MDEQ said, “remnants of an algae bloom, mixed with products of the menhaden fishery, and diesel fuel from a local vessel produced the material trapped behind the boom.”

But Fillingame said the material that invaded the bay Sunday was far more substantial than DEQ described it, and some of the ribbons were miles long.

“I guarantee, that was tons of material that drifted into the Bay of St. Louis Sunday,” he said.

The mayor said he considers the DEQ report only “the first level of the analysis that we need.”

On Tuesday, Fillingame and other local leaders agreed to ask the Environmental Protection Agency for a list of primary chemicals used in the oil dispersants, to better isolate the origins of the algae blooms.

Also, during an emergency management meeting Monday, elected officials expressed frustration and a limit on their patience with both the Coast Guard and British Petroleum. Local leaders are still awaiting word on funding from BP and DMR to build a protective layer using pilings and large boom across the mouth of the bay.

Fillingame pointed out that if Sunday’s event had involved oil and not some unknown substance, the bay, rivers and marshes would have been seriously harmed.

“It is imperative – I hope to see a real sense of urgency,” he said.

“There were at least 50 ribbons of that in the bay,” Bay St. Louis Councilwoman Wendy McDonald said. “Something is not working, and we know it’s not working.”

Harrison County Supervisor Marlin Ladner, who represents the Pass Christian area, agreed that the Coast Guard, the state, and BP are taking far too long to protect the bay.

“It seems like we’re squandering this time that we have,” he said. “I cannot understand why, basically, we’re still sitting on the nickel.”

Coast Guard Capt. Steven Poulin promised the local officials he was working to speed up responses to requests from Hancock County.

“We’re going to find out where those roadblocks are, and get them out of the way,” he said. BY: J.R. Welsh

The Sea Coast Echo

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