May 14, 2010 11:24:00 AM
JACKSON - Authorities are testing suspected "tar balls" found on Mississippi shores to see if they came from the massive oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico, the governor''s office said Friday.
"Very sparsely scattered, small tar balls" were found in recent days on the beaches of West Ship Island, Horn Island, Pass Christian and Long Beach, said Dan Turner, a spokesman for Gov. Haley Barbour.
Ship and Horn islands are part of the pristine barrier islands about a dozen miles off the Mississippi coast, where white sand beaches meet clear, blue-green water. Pass Christian and Long Beach are on the mainland, where man-made beaches line the murkier water of the Mississippi Sound.
The substance may be residue from controlled burns that have been done on some of the oil miles out in the Gulf. The oil is gushing up from the sea floor at the site of an April 20 rig explosion 50 miles off the Louisiana coast.
A small piece of boom, used to contain oil spills, with an "oily substance" on it also was found on the Mississippi coast. Authorities are trying to determine where it came from and if it had oil on it from the spill, Turner said.
The news comes at a time when Barbour and economic development officials are trying to get the word out that the Mississippi Gulf Coast is open for business.
Hotel owners, fishermen and others who depend on the tourist industry have complained that customers have been scared away even though the area has not been directly impacted by the spill.
Turner stressed that suspected tar balls were not found in dense concentrations, sometimes with officials finding only one or so in long stretches of shore.
Robbie Wilbur, a spokesman for the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality, referred questions about the tar balls to a joint information center set up by the Coast Guard and BP PLC, which operated the sunken rig.
BP spokesman John Crabtree said Friday he had no information about tar balls washing up on Mississippi shores.
A news release, meanwhile, from MDEQ, the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency and the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources said Friday there have been no official confirmations of oil "in any Mississippi waters, barrier islands or beaches."
Mississippi officials have taken precautions. Workers have placed more than 355,000 feet of boom along Mississippi coastlines to protect sensitive areas.
And more than 9,000 volunteers and 315 vessels have been signed up to help in the cleanup and containment effort, if they''re needed, Barbour said during a news conference earlier this week.