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Calif. Oil Spill Cleanup Underway but Long-term Impacts Still Unclear

Cleanup is making headway in the aftermath of an oil spill in the San Francisco Bay but questions remain as to the nature of the ship collision that caused the spill, and the long term environmental impacts. Spencer Michels looks at the causes and effects of the spill.

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  • JIM LEHRER:

    Now, the cleanup of San Francisco Bay since the big oil spill. NewsHour correspondent Spencer Michels reports.

  • SPENCER MICHELS, NewsHour Correspondent:

    On the surface, everything seems back to normal. Most of the oil, not all, is gone; most of the beaches have reopened; many of the 1,500 workers who did the cleanup work have gone away.

    The crisis phase of the oil spill that threatened San Francisco Bay is over, but the long-term environmental impacts are still unclear.

    That crisis began two weeks ago, when two fuel tanks of a Hong Kong-registered container ship, the Cosco Busan, ruptured after the ship crashed into the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge in a heavy fog. Fifty-eight thousands gallons of thick fuel oil spilled into the bay and then, spread by tides and currents, washed up on beaches and killed over 1,000 birds.

    Today, about 800 birds are still being tested, observed, fed, and cleaned at the Oiled Wildlife Care Network run by the University of California at Davis. About 60 percent of the live birds brought here will survive.

    What do you see?

  • CLEANUP VOLUNTEER:

    This guy looks good.

  • SPENCER MICHELS:

    The key to survival is removal of all the oil, which is deadly to the birds, according to Micael Ziccardi, the veterinarian in charge of the center.

  • DR. MICAEL ZICCARDI, Oiled Wildlife Care Network:

    Animals, when they go through the process, when we're washing them, they need to be 100 percent clean before they come out. Even the smallest amount of oil can cause problems on them once they get out of the washings.

  • SPENCER MICHELS:

    Already, some of the cleaned birds have been released back into the wilds, but more birds could be harmed by remnants of oil in hard-to-get-to spots, says Warner Chabot of the environmental group Ocean Conservancy.

  • WARNER CHABOT, Ocean Conservancy:

    Birds and wildlife lay their eggs, hide and migrate, and hang out in the wetlands. That's where the oil tends to collect and remain.

  • SPENCER MICHELS:

    Scientists don't know what effect the oil will have on the birds' reproductive systems or long-term health.

    From practically the moment the spill occurred, a laundry list of questions has been raised by the media, by public officials, and by the people who use this bay and the ocean, the fishermen. The point of it all: to prevent another such oil spill or, if there is one, to make sure the response is improved.