How tar balls form

Waves Evaporation Oil Oil Wind


Oil rises to surface
When oil from a spill rises to the surface, weathering — the effect of the elements — causes physical changes in the oil

Change begins
Evaporation removes some of the toxins; oil and water begin to mix and form an emulsion, a puddinglike sludge

Weathering continues
Weathering continues to break down the oil into smaller pieces, tar balls, that can spread over a wide area

Sticky nuisance
Temperature and sediment in the water contribute to the stickiness of tar balls; the warmer it is, the stickier they are

Health concerns
Tar balls are harmless to most people, but in some they can cause allergic reactions and rashes; avoid contact if possible

Wash area with soap and water or a cleaning paste used by auto mechanics; do not use solvents, such as gasoline or kerosene
© 2010 MCT

Source: U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Graphic: Shiniko R. Floyd, Orlando Sentinel

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