Tarballs can be small to large chunks of crude oil and debris. They may be dark in color congealed oil globs that stick to our feet, skin, sand, rocks, plants and soil.
(Example only tarballs depicted in image to the right.)
During the first few hours after a crude oil spill, the oil spreads into a slick. Winds and waves tear the slick into smaller patches that are scattered over a much wider area. Weathering changes the appearance of the oil.
First, the lighter components of the oil and methane gas mixed with it evaporates, leaving the heavier crude behind. Then some of this crude mixes with water to form an emulsion that often looks like reddish dark brown chocolate pudding. This emulsion is much thicker and stickier than the original oil. Winds, temperature, weather and waves then continue to stretch and tear the oil patches into smaller pieces, or tarballs. Hard and crusty on the outside while being soft and gooey on the inside, like a toasted marshmallow. tarballs may be as large like the one in the picture above or small coin-sized.
Tarballs are very persistent in the marine environment and if picked up by the deep ocean currents can travel long distances. The damage this goo reeks on the environment and all living tings and people is unknown. Do not let children, animals or pregnant women play with tarballs or on oily beaches.
If you are especially sensitive to chemicals, including the hydrocarbons found in crude oil and petroleum products avoid contact with them. They may have an allergic reaction or develop rashes even from brief contact with oil.
Contact with oil should be avoided.
If contact occurs, wash the area with soap and water, baby oil, or a widely used, safe cleaning compound such as the cleaning paste sold at auto parts stores. Avoid using solvents, gasoline, kerosene, diesel fuel, or similar products on the skin. These products, when applied to skin, present a greater health hazard than the smeared tarball itself.
Report tarball sightings
If you notice unusual numbers of tarballs on the beaches, call the U. S. Coast Guard any time at 800-424-8802.
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