Oil-spill helpers galore, but limits on their use
When 58,000 gallons of oil spilled into the San Francisco Bay last Wednesday volunteers came out of the woodwork, but officials were unprepared for their help.
(Page 2 of 2)
"With the potential magnitude, we are now starting to integrate the general public," said Mike Ziccardi, director of OWCN, a partnership between Fish & Game and the University of California Davis.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Staff and trained volunteers examine and wash each bird.
Walk-in volunteers are given less technical tasks such as cleaning equipment, laundering towels – and fetching lunch.
"We haven't fed a bird, but we feed the people," says Katrina Pearson, who came over the weekend to volunteer with her daughter, Kate Pelto. "You feel so helpless when you see it. We were able to do something, and that felt good."
Frustration, however, ran high at three area volunteer meetings held over the weekend by California Fish & Game. Some came in old clothes thinking they would be heading out to the beaches, but officials just collected people's contact information and answered questions.
"Here we have a golden opportunity, a three-day weekend right after the spill, and I can't do anything to help," says one attendee, Barbara Hogan, who has experience working at the local Marine Mammal Center. "They don't even have us put our skills on that form."
During a packed session in Marin, one woman raised her hand and explained she was a veterinarian who had tried in vain to reach someone to offer her expertise.
It's common for agencies to view volunteers as only bringing "hearts and hands" to the table, says Ellis. The goal is to ask "Are there some of you here who can do exactly what we need [or] bring a skill we didn't expect?"
Yvonne Addassi, an environmental specialist with California Fish & Game, asked for patience at the meeting. "We've never gone to public meetings like this because we usually have to work very hard to get people to volunteer," she said.
She presented a recent scientific study which found that there were health problems associated with oil cleanup workers and volunteers. Fish & Game experts also explained hazards of helping without proper full-body gear and noted that there are state regulations known as HAZWOPER that require a 24-hour training course for participants of hazardous materials cleanups.
San Francisco resident Beth Brown questions how the effort can be done by just above 1,000 professionals, "[The number] sounds like an office Christmas party," she says, "It does not sound like a major operation to clean up the Headlands all the way to Ocean Beach."
Ms. Brown and a friend donned rubber gloves and used a cat litter scoop to pick up oil off a local beach before a policeman ordered them to leave.
Coast Guard Capt. William Uberti said Sunday that they are working with the state to get training to volunteers and to tap people who already have it like EMTs.
In the meantime, volunteers have been asked to help clean debris from beaches not yet hit by oil. Some have taken it on themselves to place booming, a type of protective barrier, across local harbors not yet protected by professional efforts.
"You just have to do it. Otherwise it won't get done," says Doreen Gounard, harbor manager at Galilee Harbor in Sausilito. She and about 20 residents scrambled to procure booming, ultimately saving their local marsh from contamination. "There's too much coastline here, there's not enough professionals to take care of it."