The Deepwater Horizon oil spill is widely considered one of, if not the, worst environmental disasters in history. Around 4.9 million barrels of oil leaked into the Gulf of Mexico, polluting vast swathes of the ocean and local beaches, and proving deadly to much of the marine life in the region.
After 3 months the leak was officially halted and clean-up to this day continues, and the Gulf slowly returns to its former self.
Researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology and the Universidad Autonoma de Aguascalientes (UAA) have discovered that the chemical dispersants used to treat the oil and break it down have actually increased the toxicity of the oil by as much as 52 times.
Over two million gallons of dispersants have been released to mix with the oil in attempts to break up the oil slicks and clean up the ocean. However tests have found that the mixed oil and chemical dispersant fluid vastly increase the mortality rates of rotifers, the microscopic, plankton-like animals that form the base of the Gulf’s food chain.
Roberto Rico Martinez of the UAA said that, “dispersants are preapproved to help clean up oil spills and are widely used during disasters. But we have a poor understanding of their toxicity. Our study indicates the increase in toxicity may have been greatly underestimated following the Macondo well explosion.”
Martinez and the other scientists involved in the study hope that further investigation into the effects of the dispersants on the oil and marine life should be carried out in order to understand and manage future oil spills more effectively.
Terry Snell, the chair of the School of Biology, said that, “what remains to be determined is whether the benefits of dispersing the oil by using Corexit are outweighed by the substantial increase in toxicity of the mixture. Perhaps we should allow the oil to naturally disperse. It might take longer, but it would have less toxic impact on marine ecosystems.”
By. James Burgess of Oilprice.com