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Mystery surrounds vast Brazil oil spill

September 27, 2019

Nearly one hundred oil spills have been detected along Brazil's northeast coast since early September. Brazil's environment agency said an analysis of the crude showed it was not produced by the country.

A dead sea turtle found in Fortaleza, Brazil
Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo/Instituto Verdeluz

Brazil's main environmental agency said on Thursday the source of a sprawling oil spill along the northeast coast remains unknown, but that the crude oil was not produced in the country.

The spill stretches over 1,500 kilometers (932 miles) of Brazil's northeast coast, affecting 46 cities and around one hundred of the country's best beaches since being first detected on September 2.

Read more: Oil spill disasters at high sea: What can we do to prevent environmental damage?

Brazilian television has shown slicks at sea and oil puddles along the beaches, as well as turtles covered in black tar. Other marine life has also been found dead.  

The Brazilian Institute of the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources, Ibama, said state oil company Petrobras analyzed the spill and determined it came from a single source.

However, it said, a molecular analysis of the crude showed that it was not produced in Brazil, the world's ninth largest crude producer at 3.43 million barrels a day. 

Petrobras reported that "the oil found is not produced by Brazil. Ibama has requested support from Petrobras to work on beach cleaning. In the coming days, the company will make available a contingent of about 100 people", the environmental institute announced in a statement. 

Extent of damage

The tests were done at the Petrobras Research Center (Cenpes) in Rio de Janeiro. 

So far, 105 crude oil spills have been detected.

Since the beginning of September, Ibama, together with the Federal District Fire Department, Brazil's navy and Petrobras, have been investigating the causes. 

Ninety-nine locations in 46 municipalities in 8 states have been affected, including Maranhao, Piaui, Ceara, Rio Grande do Norte, Paraiba, Pernambuco, Alagoas and Sergipe. In the Northeast, only the state of Bahia has not been affected yet.

Authorities were still conducting cleaning procedures on the Potiguar coast earlier this week. 

"Analysts on the monitoring team concluded that the situation in the state is stable so far", the institute wrote. 

Who is at risk

Ibama stated that to date, "there is no evidence of the contamination of fish and shellfish" but warned that bathers and fishermen should not have contact with oil.

Authorities also said that anyone who discovers suspicious items in the sea or on the beaches should report them to the city councils. They also advised locals that collected oil should be properly disposed of and not mixed with other waste. People were also told not to wash affected animals and to take them for veterinary assessments before returning them to sea. 

The institute said that the assessment of the suitability for human consumption of fish caught in affected areas is the responsibility of Brazil's health surveillance agency.

President Jair Bolsonaro has been widely critized for rolling back environmental regulations and monitoring since taking office in January. 

Massive forest fires this summer have destroyed large swaths of the Amazon, drawing international condemnation of Brazil's management of the environment. 

mvb/cw/rc (AP, EFE, Lusa, Reuters)

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