Chemical Dispersants Remain Months After Oil Spill

January 28, 2011

(ChattahBox Science News)—Remember the thousands of gallons of chemical dispersants dumped into the Gulf of Mexico to help break up the oil gushing from BP’s blown out Macondo wellhead? At the time, the chemical’s long-term effects on the environment and human health was unknown, and still is. But a new study found that three months after the BP Gulf oil disaster, the chemical has not broken down and still lingers deep underwater, raising new fears about its toxicity to sensitive marine ecosystems and our food supply.

The study, the first peer-reviewed research of BP’s deepwater application of the chemical solvent, was conducted by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. The team of scientists discovered that the chemical dispersant resisted biodegradation. And although they found evidence that the dispersant mixed with the oil, they were hard pressed to conclude that the chemical worked as intended, by breaking up and dispersing the millions of gallons of oil. What the scientists did find was evidence of the dispersant lurking in deepwater oil plumes, indicating the need for further testing of its possible toxicity, according to researcher Elizabeth B. Kujawinski.

“We don’t know if the dispersant broke up the oil,” she added. “We found that it didn’t go away, and that was somewhat surprising.” […]

“While the results suggest the dispersant did mingle with the oil and gas flowing from the mile-deep wellhead, they also raise questions about what impact the deep-water residue of oil and dispersant—which some say has its own toxic effects—might have had on environment and marine life in the Gulf.”

A previous expedition found evidence of deepwater toxicity several miles from the Macondo wellhead, wherein scientists discovered a colony of dying sea corals coated with an unknown brown substance. And another study found alarming evidence of oil and chemical dispersants lurking in the sediment of vital spawning grounds, which could endanger our marine food web.

The EPA plans to conduct further studies on the potential toxicity of the lingering deepwater oil and chemical dispersants. Meanwhile, a potentially toxic soup of deepwater oil plumes and chemical dispersants lurks deep beneath the surface of the Gulf of Mexico silently eating away at the delicate marine ecosystem, including corals and phytoplankton.


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