The toxic sludge spreading relentlessly off the Australian coast is carcinogenic and it is melting the soles off people's shoes.
A Hong Kong-registered ship Pacific Adventurer, carrying ammonium nitrate, was hit by Cyclone Hamish and it started leaking heavy fuel oil.
It is considered the worst spill in Australian history, and authorities are fighting hard to contain it. A 60 km stretch in the northeastern state of Queensland is being choked.
Besides about 600 tonnes of ammonium nitrate, sealed in shipping containers, was lost overboard during the storm.
Moreton and Bribie Islands and southern parts of the Sunshine Coast have been declared disaster zones.
ABC Radio's AM program reported that swimmers complained of a burning sensation after being in the water.
Andrew Ryan from the Local Disaster Management Group says most beaches in that region have had to be closed because the oil slick is nasty stuff.
"...it's a substance you certainly don't want to be touching with your bare skin."
In fact, Mr Ryan says he has been advised the oil slick is carcinogenic.
He says the dangers associated with the oil slick is the reason the number of volunteers have been limited, despite the massive scale of the disaster.
"I guess in general we're not looking for people to come on down because of that fact," he said.
Earlier Maritime Safety Queensland said it is not safe for volunteers to be handling the oil.
Yesterday it was revealed about 100,000 litres of heavy oil may have leaked from the Pacific Adventurer - five times the original estimate.
Deputy Premier Paul Lucas denies claims the Government has been keeping volunteers away as part of a cover-up.
He says it is commonsense to get the experts in, particularly as all oils are carcinogenic.
"It's fuel oil from a ship. It's no different from any other fuel oil, it's a petroleum product," he said.
"We don't want volunteers touching it because what happened then is you get skin irritation, you get fumes and the like.
"This is standard oil that is cleaned up. There's nothing unusual or funny about it on all my advice."
When asked about the claims that the oil is burning soles off people's shoes and causing burning sensations, Mr Lucas responded, saying, "I walked on it yesterday and my shoes are fine and I've not had any burning sensations," he said.
As experts warned that the environmental damage could worsen, the State Government said it would take at least two weeks to clean up.
On the beach at Bribie Island yesterday, council workers were raking the sand, turning up the globules of oil.
The stricken cargo vessel Pacific Adventurer was still leaking oil from a breach in its hull late yesterday as it lay moored in Brisbane's port, a casualty of rough seas it encountered on a voyage to Indonesia in the early hours of Wednesday.
"I think it's fair to say the Government and authorities were not informed accurately of the size of the spill," said Allan Sutherland, the Mayor of Moreton Bay, where part of the clean-up was taking place.
He said the ship's owners, Swire Shipping, "were hoping mother nature would take its course. It didn't."
Last night, Swire Shipping, admitted the damage was worse than it had announced earlier.
It said a diver's examination of the Pacific Adventurer's hull showed the damage was worse than initially believed.
"It is likely that substantially more oil has spilled than the earlier estimate of 42.5 cubic metres (42.5 tonnes)," it said.
The Government yesterday doubled the estimated time it would take to clean up the beaches, saying it would take at least two weeks. The clean-up, being undertaken by hundreds of government staff with earthmoving machinery and rakes, will cost $100,000 a day.
Maritime Safety Queensland warned that the effects of the spill would probably get worse before they got better.
The World Wildlife Foundation said the spill would affect every level of the marine food chain.
Foundation spokesman Martin Taylorsaid everything from fish and crabs to waterbirds, dugongs and dolphins, would feel the effects.
"It's a mass poisoning event, effectively," he said,
"So unless people get out there and clean it up as fast as possible, that poison will kill marine life for years."
So far only about 13 animals were known to be affected by the oil, but the Environmental Protection Agency was expecting the number to rise.