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Cain Burdeau / Associated Press

The cleanup of oiled beaches along the Gulfof Mexico has reached a point where crews, heavy equipment andthorough scrubbing can cause more damage to the ecosystem thangood, the Coast Guard said Friday.

Birds, sea turtles, fish and other species are more likely to beharmed by an aggressive cleanup than by simply leaving remnants ofoil and letting it slowly degrade, the Coast Guard said.

The report was designed to guide the cleanup of the BP PLC spillfrom the April 20 Deepwater Horizon rig explosion. There are 4,265people still involved in the cleanup and response on 544 miles ofcoast.

Recent oil samples show weathered oil found along beaches haslost the majority of the toxic compounds in it and the oil left onshores meets federal safety thresholds for people, the Coast Guardsaid.

At least one researcher questioned the Coast Guard's report.Wilma Subra, a Louisiana chemist and consultant forenvironmental groups, said the toxic elements could last fordecades and warned the report could let BP abandon cleanup beforeits complete.

'The real concern is if they walk away and it's not cleanenough,' said Subra, who has been doing her own testing along thecoast. If it's not clean enough, people and animals could still beexposed to harmful toxins, she said.

The study focused on beaches in Grand Isle, La., Petit BoisIsland, Miss., Bon Secour, Ala., and Fort Pickens, Fla.

'Beach cleanup is invasive,' said Lt. Cmdr. Kenneth Boda ofthe Coast Guard. 'If we were to go in and remove the small bit ofoil you'd have to wash the sand, and you'd kill everything else inthere.'

He said that could include removing plants, shells and othersources of food for birds, as well as damaging sea turtle eggs.

'We can sterilize the sand, but then there aren't any nutrientsleft,' said Edward H. Owens, a cleanup technical adviser for BP.

'Just cleaning and sterilizing is not necessarily in the shortterm of high value.'

Since the spill, BP has been cleaning up oil and teams haveestablished guidelines to determine what is clean enough. Thecleanup varies from beach to beach. For example, recreational andmanmade beaches are getting washed and cleaned much more thoroughlythan sand abundant in wildlife and plants.

The report signaled the cleanup was nearing an end.

BP has cleanup crews on the Gulf Coast and they will stay aroundto clean up when oil shows up on shores, Owens said. Oil remainsburied in sand and as submerged mats along the coast and stillwashes ashore occasionally.

'We're finding in some isolated places new oil because it wasburied,' Owens said. 'We're getting down to a smaller length ofshoreline that has to be cleaned up and smaller amounts of oil.'

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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