Monday, November 12, 2007

Sorry Gav, and Little Black Blobs

This morning I attended the mini haz-com training session for volunteers wishing to help clean up the oil spill mess. A representative from the Department of Fish & Game gave the sped-up lecture which still included slides on ticks and rattlesnakes. To be fair, though, this guy had just come up this morning from Monterey to give the lecture, and hadn't had a lot of time to prune the slides. Anyway, it was mostly obvious stuff but because IFO-380 (intermedial fuel oil) is rated at 2 (out of 4) as a health hazard, by law they couldn't send people out there without the training. Rep's from the EPA and SF Public Utilities Commission were there, and about 25-30 SF PUC employees, some called up very early this morning, showed up to head teams of volunteers.

Midway through the 4-hour lecture, who should appear but our own illustrious mayor, Gavin Newsom. It was a good gesture on his part to show up, and he acknowledged the slowness of a response on the clean-up. I'm still not sure why Bevan Dufty was temporarily running the show, but it looks like the mayor is back in town at any rate. I felt a little bad for my criticism and the phrase, "If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all" flitted through my head.

We grouped up and headed out to Ocean Beach for a couple hours of cleaning. We wore white, oversized protective suits, booties, and were taped at the cuffs with duct tape. This was the first day and things were a tad unorganized but I'm sure it will improve over time. The guys leading our group were, I believe, firefighters, and were friendly. They said the full haz-com course can cost $10,000 and last a week. They plan to train more volunteers and have clean-ups every day as long as necessary.

Down on the beach, it seemed like most of the oil had been collected already by the Surfriders, who have been cleaning up all weekend; although, I still found plenty of small pieces. It was hard to distinguish the oil from small black rocks, so the beach may be down a few of those. To make things more lively, I chose to clean up next to the breaking waves.

By the end, I wasn't sure whether they organized this to appease people who wanted to help, or because they actually needed volunteers. I don't think the oil is that dangerous in the quantities we were handling, but it is very sticky and, in the end, I appreciated having the protective gear just to avoid getting messy. I kept thinking, though, that we could have just shown up on the beach at 8, been told how to put the suits on and to not eat the stuff or stick it in our eyes, and set free.

The "responsible party" who is in this case, the owner of the Cosco Busan, has the responsibility of cleaning up the whole mess. In theory, this means they should be hiring contractors to clean up all of the water and beaches and should pay for all of that. I asked one of the SF PUC guys after whether they were organizing this volunteer thing because people were clamoring to help, or whether they actually needed the help. He said emphatically that they did need the help, because picking up the oil of the beach, piece by piece, is so laborious. Also, he said that more affected areas weren't cleared until the end of today for clean-up by volunteers, since there is and endangered bird species living there.

I still think the main problem associated with this event was a lack of leadership and communication leading to a break-down in confidence by citizens that the event would be handled in a competent manner. Considering the recent disaster in the Black Sea, however, where more than 10 times as much fuel was spilled and already 30,0000 birds have died, the Cosco Busan oil spill in the Bay is looking more manageable. I wish we would be kinder to our planet.

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