Hundreds of beachgoers told health officials they felt unwell after swimming last week at oil spill-affected Pensacola Beach, Fla. Scientists cite many unknowns about the safety of swimming and working around the spill.
Two days later, against the warnings of federal health officials and based on a visual survey of the beach, the local island authority director, Buck Lee, reopened the beaches for swimming, urging residents and tourists to come back to the beach. Officials left the ultimate decision on whether it was safe to swim to beachgoers.
This week, health officials in Escambia County, Fla., which includes Pensacola Beach, reported that about 400 people claimed they felt sick after visiting the beach and swimming in the Gulf.
The situation in Pensacola Beach points to the growing difficulty of balancing the potential and largely unknown health effects of a spill making only localized landfall against the political and economic motivations of hard-hit beach communities facing a canceled summer.
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