Ocean Springs, MS — A grandmother made me rethink all the bio-remediation hype. The “naturally-occurring oil-eating bacteria” have been newsworthy of late as they are supposedly going to come to the rescue of President Obama and BP and make good on their very premature statement that “the oil is gone.”
We were talking about subsurface oil in the Gulf when she said matter-of-factly, “The bacteria are running amok with the dispersants.” What? “Those oil-eating bacteria — I think they’re running amok and causing skin rashes.” My mind reeled. Could we all have missed something so simple?
The idea was crazy but, in the context of the Gulf situation — an outbreak of mysterious persistent rashes from southern Louisiana across to just north of Tampa, Florida, coincident with BP’s oil and chemical release, it seemed suddenly worthy of investigating.
I first heard about the rash from Sheri Allen in Mobile, Alabama. Allen wrote of red welts and blisters on her legs after “splashing and wading on the shoreline” of Mobile Bay with her two dogs on May 8. She reported that “hundreds of dead fish” washed up on the same beach over the following two days. This was much too early for the summer sun to have warmed the water to the point of oxygen depletion, but not too early for dispersants and dispersed oil to be mixed into the Gulf’s water mass. By early July, Allen’s rash had healed, leaving black bruises and scarring.