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Tar balls reported on beaches near Pensacola

PENSACOLA — The first oily blobs from the Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico have been spotted on beaches in northwest Florida.

Reports of tar balls on the Gulf Islands National Seashore on Friday morning had officials from the Coast Guard, state Department of Environmental Protection and the National Parks Service investigating.

The first report came in about 8:30 a.m. from Fort Pickens, said Katie Lawhon, a spokeswoman from the National Parks Service.

Robert Reid and his wife, Chris, came out to an area near Fort Pickens to look for signs of the first oil to come ashore in Florida. Fort Pickens was built in 1834 to protect the mouth of Pensacola Bay, but it apparently couldn't stop the arrival of oil from the rig explosion six weeks ago.

Robert Reid, who moved to the Gulf Coast because he likes to surf and fish, picked up a reddish-brown blob that looked like chocolate pudding. It melted and dripped off his hand as it warmed in the sun. Dime-sized blobs dotted the beach nearby.

Reid described the ball as "ultra gooey and smooth."

"I've been looking for the oil," he said. "I just wanted to see it for myself."

Lawhon said officials had received several reports in the same area. Helicopters were doing surveillance, and crews in ATVs were combing the beach.

"Both the weather and the tides are changing," Lawhon said. "They're bringing the oil in and taking it away, and then bringing more in."

Lawhon said there was no need to run tests on the origin of the oil found in Pensacola; based on the volume of reports and how widespread they were, she said there is little doubt they came from the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

The first cleanup crews were getting suited up in yellow boots and hazmat suits about 11:30 a.m. to head toward the beach at Fort Pickens.

"A beach visitor came up to me with a stick with oil dripping off of it and said she wanted to show it to a TV station," Lawhon said.

Tar balls reported on beaches near Pensacola 06/04/10 [Last modified: Friday, June 4, 2010 2:50pm]
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