It was distressing to read the article on the front page of the Pensacola News Journal today in which it was reported that John Lanza lifted the health advisory for Pensacola Beach. John Lanza is the Director of the Escambia County Health Department which is charged with protecting the health and safety of the citizens of this county.
In today’s paper, he states that he lifted the health advisory early Friday AGAINST the advice of officials at the EPA . He made his decision based on the advice of Buck Lee, Director of the SRIA. Does Mr. Lee have a scientific background on which to base such a recommendation? Mr. Lee says he made his recommendation based on a VISUAL inspection. He dismissed any notion that the water is unsafe and that he can’t wait three days for the results of testing to decide to close or open the beach to swimming. Surely both Mr. Lee and Mr. Lanza are aware that on Friday morning, two days after oil washed ashore, massive sheets of oil remained buried in the sand. Researchers from the University of South Florida found that the oil is buried from 1 to 8 inches deep.
Mr. Lanza admits that the health department did NO sampling of sand or water before lifting the health advisory. On the Escambia County website for this disaster response, readers are advised NOT to touch tar balls or oiled debris. From the beginning of this oil spill, residents of the beach have been warned against cleaning their own property due to the hazardous nature of the oil.
If the public is currently being warned not to come in contact with the tar and oil that is now on our beaches, why is it now acceptable to allow children and adults to dig in the sand and swim in the water ? Our Health Director is sending mixed signals. The revenue needs of our beach businesses are understandable, but Mr. Lanza’s primary concern should be the health and safety of the visitors and residents of this island. Unless Mr. Lee has qualifications of which we are unaware, he has no business making recommendations on health and safety, and Mr. Lanza has no business accepting them without scientific verification.