I-Team: Menace in the Marsh - WAFB 9 News Baton Rouge, Louisiana News, Weather, Sports

I-Team: Menace in the Marsh

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BP has claimed success in the billions of dollars it spent to clean up oil that gushed into the Gulf of Mexico and along the Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida shores, following the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon well.

Although the oil giant has claimed success, many others are not in agreement, including a maverick disaster ecologist at LSU. When the disaster happened, Dr. Linda Hooper-Bui was researching insects and spiders that live in the marshes of Louisiana. Since the oil began to coat areas of marsh and inland four years ago, her bugs keep telling her something. They are not doing well.

"We expected to see recovery and we have not," Bui said.

In the aftermath of other disasters, scientists had not studied insects until this catastrophe.

Bui said, "It turns out they happened to be the best indicators of oil pollution in the marsh."

Still, four years later, meticulous research of specific areas in the marsh found that insects died off, repopulated, and died off again. Bui says the key is in the experiments that her team has done.

With all of this data before the spill in place, the emphasis of the research shifted to see the effects of the spill on the hundreds of species being studied. Her research shows the impact is that insects die off, repopulate, and die off again.

"We were able to show with experiments," said Bui, "that when water pushed off the marsh and the temperature rose above 85 degrees, insects were being fumigated by vapors." Bui said it didn't matter if it was from the weathered oil spots that remain all through the impacted areas.

"We did experiments with crickets in cages, and so, the only interaction these insects had was with the air in the marsh," Bui explained.

Because of the sediment and insects analyzed, the one constant was the toxic compounds and carcinogens released into the air when the temperature exceeded 85 degrees. This was toxic to insects and toxic to humans.

This can worry and affect fishermen, oystermen, and shrimpers like Randy Johnson who makes a living off of these skills.  But Johnson counts himself lucky because he's still been able to make a living, even though he admits blue crabs are scarce since the spill, and some areas are still off limits.

"We still got fishing grounds still closed around Bay Jimmy; no crabs, no shrimp, no oysters, and closed for how long?" said Johnson.

Bui comments, "It means there are toxic, aromatic hydrocarbons in the marsh still four years later, and people who live, work, and play in the Gulf of Mexico are potentially exposed to them."

What about the food chain and seafood we eat? Bui says 90% of the seafood from the Gulf spends a portion of its life in the marsh.

"At some point the seafood we consume is spending time in the marsh and this is a concern.  I am not saying seafood isn't safe.  It needs to be paid attention to," said Bui.

The FDA, NOAA, and state agencies in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida are using the strictest standards- all stamp the seafood we eat from the Gulf as safe.

For Bui and her team, the research goes on with peer reviews, articles published, and more research. She'll continue to watch over the marsh and not be afraid to reveal what she finds.

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