Substance that alarmed fishers may have been algae

(Plaquemines Parish)
(Plaquemines Parish)

POINTE A LA HACHE, La. (AP) - A Coast Guard official has told Plaquemine Parish authorities that his agency will make sure local authorities are better informed when oil spill dispersant drills are undertaken in the Gulf of Mexico.

Coast Guard Capt. Peter Gautier's letter to Plaquemine Parish President Billy Nungesser comes after Nungesser complained that the parish wasn't notified in June about a drill for pilots who apply oil dispersants.

The Coast Guard and the oil industry's Marine Spill Response Corp. said the planes in the drill only sprayed water. However, fishermen said they had a burning skin rash after the spraying. And they provided Plaquemine officials with photographs showing a white foamy substance covering the water.

"We don't dispute the observations and symptoms the fishermen experienced and have consulted experts to see what they think," Gautier wrote.

The letter, released by the parish Friday, says staffers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and a biologist from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette said the substance was likely an algae bloom, which can cause skin irritation.

Gautier said no dispersant application has been authorized by the Coast Guard since the 2010 BP oil spill.

"But our lesson in this is to make sure that parishes and stakeholders are better informed when these exercises are held so we can address concerns and misperceptions when they come up," he wrote. "MSRC has suspended water spraying exercises pending an internal review of procedures and external notification processes, and we will make sure that notifications will be made to the parish in the future."

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