New Map of Gulf Oil Disaster Beach Closings

Those planning a Gulf beach break will want to check out the new interactive map prepared by the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The map tracks the history of beach closings, advisories and notices caused by the BP Gulf oil disaster. The website also offers information that can help safeguard your family's health on affected beaches.

On the map, you click on a brown tar ball icon to see counties that have had oil present, and read the warnings. A sand pail icon indicates places where there have been no official warnings, but where a threat exists..

The non-profit group notes on its site that millions of gallons of oil have gushed into the Gulf since April, and that oil continues to spread, washing ashore at Gulf Coast beaches in Alabama, Louisiana, Florida and Mississippi.

The site has gathered advisories and closure information from state and local officials, but also more obscure sources, and plans to keep the information updated – no easy challenge. The group says the information was "supplemented with phone calls and e-mails with government officials in charge of beach management."

Because the oil contains a mixture of metals including mercury, arsenic and lead, as well as hydrocarbons, it can be dangerous to beach-goers' health, the group warns. Exposure to oil can cause skin and breathing irritation and even cancer.

"As the oil hits our coasts, it is important to recognize that oil is a hazardous material and that we need to protect ourselves against potential health impacts from coming into contact with this substance," NRDC warns on the website.

The group suggests beach-goers avoid areas where oil can be seen or smelled.

The NRDC has a history of advocating for safe, clean beach water and will release its annual report on water safety later this month.

Photo, John W Tuggle, flickr

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