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Oil Is Toxic. So Are Dispersants!

2011/09/10

During the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, dispersants were used in very large quantities (I think the number is in the “millions of gallons” range, but I can’t find an exact figure).

Remember the footage where all you saw was the broken pipe and oil gushing out.  Well, if you look closely, you’ll also see a small pipe adding dispersant (white) directly to the flow of crude oil.  Dispersants were also added by aircraft, flying over oil patches that were floating on the Gulf.

Dispersant by plane in the Gulf of Mexico.  Photo: coastalcare.org.

Dispersant by plane in the Gulf of Mexico. Photo: coastalcare.org.

Unfortunately, the use of dispersants, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency, is a trade-off:

“It’s important to understand that the use of dispersants is an environmental trade-off. We know dispersants are generally less toxic than the oils they breakdown. We know that surface use of dispersants decreases the environmental risks to shorelines and organisms at the surface and when used this way, dispersants breakdown over several days. However the long term effects on aquatic life are unknown”.

“Dispersants are generally less toxic than oil. When considering the use of a dispersant in the deep ocean, the federal government weighs the effectiveness of the dispersant in breaking down the oil at such depths, the benefits of preventing the oil from rising to the surface and eventually hitting the shore where it is likely to do significant damage to birds, wetlands and aquatic life, and the long term impacts of the dispersant mixed with oil in deeper waters.”

But some will argue that dispersants are simply a way for governments and oil companies to look like they are dealing with the problem.  The oil isn’t gone, it simply isn’t seen on the surface.  Out of sight, out of mind.

It will take years to find out how the oil and dispersants have affected local ecosystems.  However, we are already seeing the health impacts on the people living in the Gulf.  Please take a look at the following video which is an interview with a toxicologist that has worked extensively in the Gulf of Mexico.  (The second part of the video is “suggested” at the end of the first.)

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