There's a dirty secret buried under Gulf of Mexico beaches after cleanup workers scrape away the oil washing ashore. Walk to a seemingly pristine patch of sand, plop down in a chair and start digging with your bare feet, like everyone does at the beach. Chances are you'll walk away with gooey tar between your toes.
So far, cleanup workers hired by BP have skimmed only the surface, using shovels or sifting machines to remove oil. The company is planning a deeper cleaning program that could include washing or incinerating sand once the leak is stopped off the coast of Louisiana.
Some experts question whether it's better to just leave it alone and let nature run its course, in part because oil that weathers on beaches isn't considered as much of a health hazard as fresh crude. Some environmentalists and local officials fret about harm to the ecosystem and tourism.
"We have to have sand that is just as clean as it was before the spill," said Tony Kennon, the mayor of Orange Beach, a popular tourist stretch reaching to the Florida state line.
Meanwhile out in the Gulf, choppy seas held up oil skimming operations all along the Gulf coast, although boats off Louisiana's shoreline hoped to be back at work before the day ended. Rough waves have halted offshore skimming in Mississippi, Florida and Louisiana for more than a week.
Orange Beach was stained Wednesday by a new wave of tar balls and brown, oil-stained foam after days of relatively oil-free surf, but few tourists were around to see the mess.