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article imageOil clean-up chemical dispersants more dangerous than oil itself?

By KJ Mullins     Jun 1, 2011 in Environment
The use of chemical dispersants to clean up the BP oil spill in the Gulf Coast may be more damaging to the ecosystem than the oil itself, according to preliminary findings by University of West Florida researchers.
The chemical dispersant, Corexit, used by BP is toxic when mixed with oil to phytoplankton and bacteria. Those every elements are vital to the food chain within the Gulf of Mexico's waters.
"That (effect) may cascade itself up through other larger organisms as you go up the food web," Wade Jeffrey, a UWF biologist with the Center for Environmental Diagnostics and Bioremediation said Tuesday in an article from Pensacola News Journal. "It's one of those small pieces of a big puzzle of effects. We can't say if we've seen big shifts yet. I don't know that answer yet."
The BP oil spill dumped 2 million gallons of dispersant chemicals into the Gulf after 4.1 million barrels of oil polluted the waters from the Deepwater Horizon's April 20, 2010 explosion.
The study has found that the chemicals used to fix the problem caused the oil to become smaller droplets. Those droplets are more available to animals in the waters. One of those animals that have suffered are dolphins. Dolphin mothers appear to have not been able to build up blubber to weather the cold as a result of the chemicals used in the water.
Those concerns have been voiced since the beginning of the crisis. A year ago ProPublica stated:
"Dispersing the oil is considered one of the best ways to protect birds and keep the slick from making landfall. But the dispersants contain harmful toxins of their own and can concentrate leftover oil toxins in the water, where they can kill fish and migrate great distances."
They also commented on Corexit saying that on a worker safety sheet it is associated with headaches, vomiting and reproductive problems at high doses. When the chemical was used after the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill it was linked to health issues in people including respiratory, nervous system, liver, kidney and blood disorders.
Richard Charter, an expert on marine biology and oil spills, was quoted at the time, “Right now there is a headlong rush to get this oil out of sight out of mind. You can throw every resource we have at this spill. You can call out the Marine Corps and the National Guard. This is so big that it is unlikely that any amount of response is going to make much of a dent in the impacts. It’s going to be mostly watching it happen.”
A year ago President Obama told BP to stop using Corexit after hearing how the chemical was both toxin and ineffective against the crude oil polluting the water. Before the Golf disaster the chemical had never been used in as high a quantity as it was being used.
The Guardian reported:
"Why would you use something that is much more toxic and much less effective, other than you have a corporate relationship with the manufacturer?" asked Jerrold Nadler, a Democratic congressman from New York told a hearing on Wednesday.
In January Common Dreams reported that chemical dispersants had not degraded three months after they had been applied.
"This study gives our colleagues the first environmental data on the fate of dispersants in the spill," said Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution chemist Elizabeth Kujawinski, who led a team that included scientists from UC Santa Barbara. "We don't know if the dispersant broke up the oil," she said. "We found that it didn't go away, and that was somewhat surprising."
The chemical remained in the deep ocean, waters that are unaccustomed to chemicals and where much of the ecosystem provides life for all marine life.
More about Chemical dispersants, soil spills, Gulf coast, Spill, Corexit
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