Oil spill secrecy: What's in the dispersal chemicals?

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One the major responses to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill has been the use of chemical dispersants, compounds that break up the oil before it gets to shore. But Propublica's raising an important issue:

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.

And the sharp-eyed sunshine advocates at the Sunshine in Government blog picked up on another element of this: We don't really know how dangerous the chemicals are -- because even though BP is dumping vast amounts of the stuff into the ocean, the dispersant formulas are secret:

In situations where the public interest in knowing what science can tell us about the chemical product we’re blasting into the Gulf of Mexico in a vast, untested experiment to stop a petroleum hemmorage in deep waters that threatens life in nature and livelihood in the Gulf Coast, the federal government, private companies and the industry they are a part of ought to do the right thing and make public all  the science they’re holding that sheds light on how the government and private sector are responding to this very current environmental and economic crisis.

Now, the sources I have in this clean-up tell me that the dispersant is a lot less toxic than the oil itself -- but there are no long-term studies on the damage it might do to deep-sea biota and to the larger ecosystem. Not that they should stop dumping the stuff -- it's probably the best alternative, given a lot of bad alternatives -- but since BP is taking responsibility for the spill and cleanup, we ought to know what the impacts of this chemical solution are -- because the company ought to be responsible for those, too.

Comments

Good one Tim, I've often wondered about that. I thought they used enzymes that "eat" the oil, but those would have consequences too. You can't get something for nothing or have your cake and eat it, too. I know people like to believe in magical solutions, but they don't exist in reality. The only way to not have these disasters is to stop drilling for oil, and in order to do that, we need to stop driving. Pretty simple, except that we've built a society that depends on cars. We need to build something else, and NOW.

Posted by Jeff Hoffman on May. 06, 2010 @ 12:14 am

Good one Tim, I've often wondered about that. I thought they used enzymes that "eat" the oil, but those would have consequences too. You can't get something for nothing or have your cake and eat it, too. I know people like to believe in magical solutions, but they don't exist in reality. The only way to not have these disasters is to stop drilling for oil, and in order to do that, we need to stop driving. Pretty simple, except that we've built a society that depends on cars. We need to build something else, and NOW.

Posted by Jeff Hoffman on May. 06, 2010 @ 12:14 am

Can't help but wonder what is in the fund that was supposed to be 20 billion dollars and spit out quickly to the people suffering in the gulf. I fear that the next thing we're going to hear is that BP's checks are bouncing through banks like rubber tar balls.

If there is any proof that justice comes late, this is it. There will be a day when Karma is going finish off BP --- and who knows.....maybe it already has. What a sad sad mess.

Carol Williams
Lead Author

Posted by Carol Williams on Aug. 11, 2010 @ 5:12 pm