The Journal Gazette
 
 
Saturday, January 15, 2022 1:00 am

Diesel spill cleanup includes gator teeth

Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS – Wildlife rehabilitators are decontaminating dozens of alligators, brushing their pointy teeth and scrubbing their scaly hides in the weeks after a pipeline rupture dumped 300,000 gallons of diesel fuel into a New Orleans area wetland.

Diesel poured into the area outside the New Orleans suburb of Chalmette on Dec. 27 after a severely corroded pipeline broke, according to federal records.

Seventy-eight alligators have since been rescued, and 33 of them had been cleaned and released by Friday into a national wildlife refuge located in New Orleans and about 10 miles from the spill site in St. Bernard Parish, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries said.

Cleaning a six-foot-long alligator requires eight people: four holders, two scrubbers, one person with a hose for hot-water rinses and one to change the wash water, said Laura Carver, who became the department's oil spill coordinator in February 2010, less than three months before a massive BP oil spill off Louisiana in the Gulf.

Carver said the impact of December's diesel spill on wildlife was relatively high compared with most spills in Louisiana. Rehabilitating that many alligators at once “is a new one for us,” Carver said.

She said a hard piece of wood “almost like a really old-fashioned mop handle” is used to hold the alligator's jaw open while its teeth are scrubbed.

The teeth cleaning comes toward the end of a series of body washes using gradually smaller concentrations of Dawn dish detergent to clean off the gunk. “They literally get their mouths washed out with soap. But it's the only thing that works,” Carver said.

The department euthanized three alligators more than 8 feet long, Carver said. They were in deep diesel and “in rough shape,” she said.

Birds and smaller reptiles get their mouths swabbed out, often as they're captured or when they're brought in, Carver said. But gators have to wait for their cleaning until all polluted food has made it through their digestive systems.

Though the babies, all found near each other, shared a kiddie pool, each of the others has its own kiddie pool within a plywood enclosure.

“We've found that cyclone fencing really doesn't work because the larger gators really like to climb,” Carver said.


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