Nov 2007 - San Francisco Bay

Oil Spill: Volunteers Ordered Off Berkeley Beach

Monday 12th November 2007, BERKELEY, Calif. (KCBS) -- The oil stained shoreline off Frontage Road in Berkeley is closed because of last week's oil spill, but that didn't stop volunteers who tried to clean up the beach Monday.

Volunteers like Bryce Nesbitt and two other people wore gloves and plastic booties to pick up globs of oil. Nesbitt told KCBS reporter Dave Padilla he wanted to do his part since there was no one cleaning the area.

But state Fish and Game wardens were quickly on the scene, ordering the three to stop what they were doing. The volunteers were told they were putting their own health in jeopardy by not having the proper training in oil recovery.

KCBS' Dave Padilla reports (audio program)

For the Cosco Busan spill, limited official trainings are finally happening on oil cleanup (this replaces the former official position that volunteers should clean only non-oiled beaches). But the demand way outstrips the supply, and every moment makes the oil harder to clean (the oil is easiest to roll off the beach when fresh -- give it time and it gets tangled in everything).

Here are instructions should you decide to try it on your own. Frankly the biggest challenge now is that dogs and people are returning to the beaches and stepping all over the oil, making it hard to pick up.

Equipment Required:

Where is the oil?
All over the East Bay shore. On the sand you'll see shiny black glops ranging from fist size on down. If people have stepped on the sand, these may be hard to see.

How is it done?:
Rock cleanup is for professionals. On the sand, tar drops can just be scooped up.

Take 3 bags for each foot, and rubber band them over shoes. Pick a clean area to stand, and clean a new foot area with your scooper and stick. Shake gently to remove excess sand. The bucket helps to keep the bag edges clean -- with careful technique no oil should reach your gloves at any point. Your feet are a different matter -- you'll hit oil that's just below the sand.

Stay above the waterline, and keep dry and clean.

Is it legal?
The East Bay beaches are officially closed (and doubly so in Berkeley). But with no organized cleanup, it's time to act. When I have gone out Emeryville Police, Berkeley Fire Department and East Bay Park rangers have issued cautions, but declined to kick anyone who was well prepared out of the area. (Update: that was over the weekend. on Monday we were stopped).

Will I get all dirty?
Hope not. Do it right, and your gloves will stay perfectly clean. See: Consider reading the material data safety sheet for this product. The actual oil spilled is IFO380, but that's very close to Bunker C.

1) Unless there is a slight breeze, leave the beach due to fumes. 2) You will attract others who will step on the oil, just to see what you are doing. Encourage them to come back prepared. 3) Work in a grid: if you bounce around you'll push oil under the surface. 4) If you're working in a group, stick together, leaving enough beach for wildlife to approach if needed. Carry the oiled wildlife network number with you. 5) This stuff is amazingly heavy. Double bag, triple bag.

What do I do with the stuff?
There are giant specially lined dumpsters at the Berkeley Marina, near the Adventure Playground. Do NOT put it in a trash can. I already delivered 150lbs to the region's Coast Guard commander -- the point was made, no need to repeat that stunt :-).

The stuff spreads like wildfire -- keep everything clean, and pat any stray dots with sand.

What about wildlife?
Please keep most of each beach clear for sick birds to land. Remember that the oil you remove from a beach won't refloat, and won't get stuck somewhere harder to clean.

How does this differ from the official training?

This guide is more focused.  The advantage of official training: it is the key to helping with official cleanup efforts.

The 4 hour "Disaster Service Worker Volunteer Certification" courses are a cut down version of the 24-Hour HAZWOPER certification. The Berkeley Marina class consisted of:

Course Time
Chemistry (e.g. molecular bonds, specific gravity, inflammability).
100 minutes
Biology (e.g. effects of various chemicals on the body).
60 minutes
Interpreting safety warning labels.
30 minutes
Putting on a tyvek suit (primarily showing how to use duct tape to seal the gap between gloves and suit).
11 minutes
Plus breaks & miscellaneous.
240 minutes total.

The specific training pretty much comes down to: vapors should not be a problem, don't get it on your skin, don't eat it, sign the waiver, and sign a loyalty oath to uphold the constitution of the United States of America.  The certification you receive is good only for this particular event.

Who Wrote This?
Bryce Nesbitt, a local electrical/software engineer.