A new study, published in the journal Environmental Pollution, has found that the dispersants used to clean up oil spills actually make the entire situation much worse and cause far more damage to the environment than the crude oil itself.
As part of the clean up proceedings for the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill more than 2 million gallons of the oil dispersants Corexit 9527A and 9500A were dumped into the Gulf of Mexico in order to break the oil up into tiny droplets; a move that is intended to speed up the degradation of the oil and prevent it from reaching shore.
The study has worryingly discovered that when Corexit is mixed with oil it becomes up to 52 times more toxic than the original oil on its own.
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Terry Snell, a biologist at Georgia Tech and co-author of the study, said that “there is a synergistic interaction between crude oil and the dispersant that makes it more toxic.” The dispersant works in as much as it makes the oil effectively disappear, but the microscopic particles that are left are “more toxic to the planktonic food chain.”
Snell explained that “the levels in the Gulf were toxic, and seriously toxic. That probably put a big dent in the planktonic food web for some extended period of time, but nobody really made the measurements to figure out the impact.”
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Plankton is the base food source of the ocean, the bottom of the food chain. If the population of plankton in the gulf is killed off enough then the population of larger animals will be effected, all the way up to whales.
The dispersants put the oil out of site. ‘Out of sight, out of mind.’ The public forgot about the oil once they could no longer see it; but it doesn’t mean that it is gone, that the ocean is clean and safe for life.
By. Joao Peixe of Oilprice.com
Joao is a writer for Oilprice.com