"My stomach churns when I hear people say, 'We dodged a bullet,' because I've heard it so many times, but we shouldn't be so quick to wave this off," said James Cowan, a professor at Louisiana State University's School of the Coast and Environment. "This notion of 'Come back to the Gulf, eat seafood, it's fine' is a problem.
"The health risks of dispersants used in the response to the Deepwater Horizon spill are not yet fully known, said Cheryl Murphy, an environmental toxicologist at Michigan State University, in part because the contamination that began in phytoplankton may take years to rise up the food chain to the seafood eaten by humans.
"Scientists are already spotting red flags ... the rates of dolphin and sea turtle deaths have risen to highly unusual levels in the Gulf of Mexico.
"There is also clear evidence, he said, that contamination has been making strides up the food chain, with 2 to 5 percent of the gulf fish population affected. (The) worry now . . . is for fishermen who handle fish with lesions containing highly concentrated pathogens linked to the dispersants, which accelerate the breakup of oil."
The outcome of a meteorological disturbance of the seeming dormancy of the buried oil is a big, black unknown. Most of the sugar-white beaches of the Florida panhandle east of Panama City are still marvelously underdeveloped, and pristine. Dotted with seat-oats on gentle sloping dunes, wildlife refuges abound and the coastline is unmarred by corporate chain restaurants or mega-resorts, earning the area the nickname of "The Forgotten Coast."
Should winds shift trajectories and blow westerly, that nickname could become tragically ironic.