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Deadly Bacteria Lurk in Deepwater Horizon Tar Balls

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Nearly two years after the Deepwater Horizon disaster gushed millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, tar balls from the spill still turn up on Alabama's shores after storms. Now, one researcher is recommending that people steer clear of these tar balls after studies find them chock-full of potentially deadly bacteria.

In research published online November 2011 in the journal EcoHealth, Auburn University microbiologist Cova Arias and colleagues discovered that Deepwater Horizon tar balls found months after the spill contained high levels of bacteria, including 10 times the level of Vibrio vulnificus as found in the surrounding sand, a finding first reported by the Associated Press. V. vulnificus is the leading cause of seafood-borne disease fatalities nationwide, and it has a fatality rate of 20 to 30 percent when it infects skin wounds.

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