BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - More than 200 days after the Gulf oil spill, BP clean-up workers are still picking tar balls off the beach in Harrison County.
The contract crews began the beach clean-up work in early June. And it's a job that will likely continue through the next summer season.
Clean-up crews are responsible for monitoring and removing oil remnants from all 26 miles of sand beach, from East Biloxi to Pass Christian. A BP spokesman says each crew is picking up around 20 to 30 pounds of tar balls a day.
Sand Beach Director Bobby Weaver told WLOX News the job must be done by hand, since heavy machinery won't work on the small, oily clumps.
They converge along the shoreline, working two shifts a day. Contract work crews scour the sand with sifting shovels and buckets.
"This is stuff that is mainly manageable with individual crews and hand picking and cleaning as it goes. They don't call for any of the heavier machinery or anything," said BP media spokesman Ray Melick.
We tried our best to ask the workers about their daily grind through the sand beach. But they gave us the silent treatment. One referred us to his supervisor.
"You need to talk to my supervisor, Ralph Anderson. He's over there," said the worker, pointing to the four wheeler nearby.
But we had even less luck with the supervisors. We asked the BP spokesman if there's any kind of gag order in place for workers.
"No, we don't have a gag order. But, at the same time, we can't make anybody talk. And I don't know why, but not everybody wants to talk on TV and on camera," said Melick.
As for BP's assessment of the ongoing beach clean-up, Melick says progress is evident.
"I think it's going well. I mean, we do have the crews out here picking up tar balls and tar mats. Mostly the stuff that's on the surface that may wash up as current and weather conditions change, we'll see more coming up," he explained.
Harrison County's beaches would have taken a much heavier hit from the oil if not for the barrier islands. So, while workers spend the day here picking up a few pounds of tar balls, it's a much different operation at places like Horn Island.
Heavy equipment is being used in limited applications on the islands to remove oil residue from the sub surface sand.
"There are teams out there on the barrier islands now that are working within the guidelines that are set up by the federal government and national park service that controls those islands," the BP spokesman said.
Along with the visible tar balls scattered along the shore, there is also concern about possible sub-surface oil; oily residue buried beneath a layer of sand.
Harrison County Sand Beach Director Bobby Weaver is working with the Corps of Engineers on an "assessment project" that will take a closer look at that potential problem in the next couple weeks.