Visitors to Pensacola are getting mixed messages about whether they can go into the Gulf waters or not during the worst environmental disaster there ever. State and local officials are pointing blame at the Obama administration for keeping secret critical safety information about the toxicity of the water from the crude oil which is continuing to leak from the BP oil rig explosion.
In one of the biggest tourist weekends in the Panhandle, the question is whether they should ban swimming altogether. The Escambia County warning stops just short of banning swimming, largely because of the area’s dependence on tourism according to an article in the Palm Beach Post.
As it stands, officials have issued a permanent warning for swimmers to stay out of the Gulf of Mexico in all 43 miles of Escambia County beaches. But they say they need more input from the EPA to know whether people can walk on the beach, get tar on their feet, or swim in waters soaked, not just with oil, but with toxic dispersant in the water to break up the oil.
It is the Environmental Protection Agency that is ultimately responsible for setting standards for the public concerning swimming, but so far the agency has failed to do so and has failed to respond to media requests for toxicology reports.
John Lanza, the top county health official says, “There is no national standard right now for swimming …I’m hoping that the EPA either tomorrow or soon will actually release those standards so we that we have some basis to make further recommendations.”
Regardless of an official explanation, common sense dictates that people avoid areas where oil and tar are present, and that pregnant women, children, and people with a compromised immune system wear shoes when walking across any Panhandle beaches.