TOMS RIVER, NJ—A weekend spillage of Tag Body Spray being described as the worst personal fragrance-related natural disaster in the history of the Eastern Seaboard continued to spread along New Jersey's Atlantic shore late Tuesday morning as disaster-management crews worked to contain the slick before it reached international waters.
Coast Guard officials said that the massive Tag slick—an estimated 20 million gallons, or the equivalent of 45 million Body Shots—has further contaminated the New Jersey coastline with a pungent combination of the Midnight and After Hours scents.
"We were not prepared for this," said Toms River, NJ firefighter Tony Carliano, choking back tears. "I've been dealing with noxious chemical fumes for 35 years, but I've never smelled anything on this scale before."
An Environmental Protection Agency spokesman said that Tag levels were already becoming dangerously high in recent years due to the thousands of migratory bros and dudes who flock to the area's beaches during the summer months. Worsening the crisis was the additional arrival of a yet-undetermined number of vacationing convention-goers, Maxim subscribers, and middle-aged divorcees trying to pass for twentysomething party girls. Thirteen-year-old boys attempting to imitate their older brothers have also not been ruled out as a source.
It is not yet known what caused the rupture in the hull of The Manly Torso, a fragrance supertanker which had been scheduled to make a delivery to the regional Tag receiving facility in Ocean City this week, which sank, apparently killing everyone on board, late Saturday.
Many beachgoers, as well as seabirds and marine mammals, have been covered in a thick glaze of Tag. Progress on containing the spill has been hampered by the fact that rescue workers, even those wearing HAZMAT suits and respirators, can only work hour-long stints due to the overpowering, ultra-concentrated odor. Chemical decontamination showers on the scene have repeatedly run out of water.
"It's the equivalent of a military-grade nerve agent, so mucous membranes are highly vulnerable," Federal Emergency Management Agency Director R. David Paulison said. "Without proper and immediate decontamination, it can cause severe rashes, sloughing of skin, and can even strip the lining of your throat if unprotected."
Also undermining the relief efforts, rescuers on the scene said, is the unwillingness of many beachgoers to cooperate with the cleanup.
"It's an uphill battle," volunteer Frank Hagen said. "We spend five hours scrubbing the toxins from the hair and skin of a victim, and then the next day, they douse themselves in it all over again and head back to the beach."
Some environmental experts said that the biological ramifications of the spill may not be fully known for decades. A disaster of this magnitude could have a profound and adverse effect on the breeding patterns of Mid-Atlantic populations for generations, according to Princeton University biologist Leslie Platz.
"There are billions of insects who release sex pheromones to attract mates and their ability to receive these messages could be overwhelmed by the Tag odor," Platz said. "And human females may become too repulsed to ever consider mating with another male."
Even if the spill is successfully contained and cleaned, Platz added, the lingering odor "could still make our grandchildren feel awkward and uncomfortable 50 years from now."
While Paulison expressed hope that progress will be made with the arrival of chemical skimming boats later this week, the spill is already being likened by many to the worst health-and-beauty-aids disaster in American history, the 2001 explosion of a Mitchum deodorant plant in Chicago's South Side, which covered the city in a toxic Mitchum Man cloud for three months.