The bad news isn’t over for the Gulf. The preliminary findings of two new studies show that the nearly two million gallons of toxic dispersants applied to the more than 200 million gallons of oil that gushed from its exploded rig may have been more damaging to the ecosystem as a whole than the oil alone. From Think Progress:
The government approved application of the dispersants in an attempt to prevent oil and tar mats from washing into the marshes along the coast, habitat where the substance has been known to remain for decades. BP maintained the dispersants would break down the oil and allow more of it to be eaten by bacteria that would consume some of the most harmful products in the oil.
But the initial experiments conducted by Wade Jeffrey, a biologist with the University of West Florida’s Center for Environmental Diagnostics and Bioremediation, point to the opposite. After adding BP oil to seawater and combining with Corexit, Jeffrey found that the chemicals did not have their intended effect. He said, “The way we’re doing the experiment, the Corexit does not seem to facilitate the degradation of the oil.” In fact, Jeffrey found that the combination of Corexit and oil was more toxic to phytoplankton in the sample than oil alone and did not prompt the oil-eating bacteria to consume the oil any faster.
A similar study, conducted by Susan Laramore of Florida Atlantic University’s Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute and also released last week, looked at the effects of the oil-Corexit mixture on slightly larger species, including conch, oysters and shrimp. Early results point to the same conclusion – that the oil and dispersant mixture is more toxic than the oil alone. Laramore notes that her study runs directly counter to the assurances BP and others presented to the public when making the case for dispersant use. She said, “These results are backwards of what the oil companies are reporting.”
Defenders’ policy advisor and offshore drilling expert Richard Charter warned against the unprecedented use of toxic dispersants and their potential damage to wildlife from the beginning. He told CNN last June, “This industry needs to wake-up and get serious about safety.” Now, after hearing this news he said, “This finding reaffirms the need to research and bring to market safer and more effective ocean oil spill response technologies, especially in the Arctic Ocean, where we have no spill response that works amidst broken sea ice.”
“This finding reaffirms the need to research and bring to market safer and more effective ocean oil spill response technologies, especially in the Arctic Ocean, where we have no spill response that works amidst broken sea ice.” – Richard Charter
Hopefully, these findings will spur action. Earlier this week, the Louisiana Senate Environmental Quality Committee approved a proposal that would effectively ban the use of dispersants in responding to oil spills in Louisiana waters, which extend three miles into the Gulf of Mexico. It now heads to the floor for debate.