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Wildlife Responders Clean Birds In Harm’s Way After Spill

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(credit: KTVT/KTXA) Jennifer Lindgren
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HOUSTON (CBSDFW.COM) - Tuesday afternoon, the Coast Guard says it’s reopened the Houston Ship Channel to limited traffic, after an oil spill three days ago. Clean up, meanwhile, continues along the beaches surrounding the shipping channel.

Authorities estimate environmental cleanup crews have removed nearly 1,800 bags of solid waste, from 18.9 miles of shoreline. Tuesday, dozens of bags of oil and tar were removed by workers in protective suits from East Beach alone.

Thousands of feet of boom kept the remaining crude product away from the land. So far, Texas Parks and Wildlife estimates, 18 birds have been rescued, after being found covered in oil.  The birds, mostly loon and lesser scaup, were taken to the organization Wildlife Response Services, where specialists are using Q-tips and Dawn detergent to gently clean the feathers.

“The birds have oil in their mouths, so we have to use Q-tips to get the product out of there,” said Rhonda Murgatroyd, director of Wildlife Response Services. Murgatroyd says the birds cannot survive covered in the oil, because they cannot regulate their body temperatures.

Ten of the birds taken to the non-profit have died from the oil exposure, but volunteers are working to save the remaining eight. The process can mean gentle cleaning of one bird for several hours.
“Imagine washing dishes somewhere between 104, 106 degrees for a long period of time, wearing gloves, and a protective suit,” said Murgatroyd.

Murgatroyd says, when she heard about the size of the oil spill – an estimated 170,000 gallons – she anticipated they’d see even more animals.

Tuesday state authorities said they think much of the oil has passed on into the Gulf of Mexico.

Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson told CBS 11 News, he thinks further environmental impact will be minimal.

“There have been much more catastrophic spills in Galveston Bay. This is significant, but after a couple of weeks, I don’t think anyone will ever know it happened,” said Jerry Patterson.

Murgatroyd says it can take about two weeks to clean one bird and ready it for release. As far as she’s concerned, that’s the day the cleanup is over. “Do I like seeing oiled birds? No. I like the day when I put them back out. I really love what I do,” she said.

(©2014 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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