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Jackson watched as workers in yellow and orange vests flicked penny-sized gobs of tar into nets, sifting them to filter out the sand and smaller pieces of tar. Officials overseeing the cleanup showed her how the oil had been buried by successive waves of sand, and how more layers with tar were under the top layer of sand.

Jackson said that despite the level of contamination on the beaches, it should be up to local officials to decide whether they should be closed. Officials in Escambia County have posted oil warnings at beaches but not closed them.

“From a commonsense perspective there is nothing that I am going to be able to tell you in chemical lab that you can’t learn about the safety of the water from a bathing purpose by looking at it and smelling it,” she said.

Reporters pressed Jackson on whether she would wade into the water Saturday based on what she had seen.

“I would not go into the water today,” she said.


Associated Press writers Jason Bronis in Barataria Bay, La. and Jessica Gresko in Pensacola Beach, Fla., contributed to this report.