Bacteria Don’t Like Dispersants

Dr. Liz Kujawinski, chemist at the well respected Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, found a component of dispersant still hanging around in the Gulf, seven months after spraying stopped. During the disaster response, EPA and NOAA made claims that dispersants degrade very quickly. Dr. Paul Anastas, Assistant Administrator for the Office of Research and Development EPA told Congress on August 4, 2010 “. . . dispersants are generally less toxic than oil; they reduce risks to shorelines, and degrade quickly over several days to weeks, according to modeling results.” We now know that two of those assertions are totally wrong. (Corexit was found to be as toxic as the oil and EPA tried to force BP to use a less toxic option.) Previously unknown bacteria were championed when it was discovered that these deepwater creatures were devouring the oil. Because oil naturally seeps out of the Gulf floor on occasion, the bacteria were accustomed to having oil for lunch. Dispersant is a different story. The bacteria had never encountered the chemical before and hence, were not keen on eating it. Hence, the oil is going but the dispersant is staying.We stated last summer that if 1.8 million gallons of Corexit had spilled off a boat, it would have been considered a major disaster. Nevertheless, EPA said a trade-off was required: to save the coast we must sacrifice the marine environment. It is clear that since the dispersant chemicals are still being found in the deepwater, we need to know what kind of impact this may have on gulf fisheries and other important species. Add this to a long list of research priorities around the BP Drilling Disaster. Casey DeMoss Roberts is the Assistant of Science and Water Policy for the Gulf Restoration Network.

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