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Earth Science

Oil Dispersants Used During Gulf Spill Degrade Slowly In Cold Water 61

MTorrice writes "During the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, clean up crews applied millions of liters of dispersants to break up the oil. At the time, the public and some scientists worried about the environmental effects of the chemicals, in particular how long they would last in the deep sea. According to a new Environmental Protection Agency study, the key active ingredient in the dispersants degrades very rapidly under conditions similar to those found at the Gulf surface during the spill. Meanwhile, in the much colder temperatures found in the deep sea, the breakdown is quite slow. The chemicals' persistence at deep-sea and Arctic temperatures suggests more research is needed on their toxicity, the researchers say."
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Oil Dispersants Used During Gulf Spill Degrade Slowly In Cold Water

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  • by the eric conspiracy ( 20178 ) on Wednesday February 13, 2013 @09:12PM (#42890741)

    There is some logic to the use of these materials.

    After all most of the life in aquatic environments is on or near the surface. The most important ecologies are the salt marshes and the top 200 meters or so of the ocean (epipelalogic zone) which is sunlit. It is where all the action is. 90% of life is found in this top layer. It is where the most complex and presumably vulnerable life forms are found.

    So submerging the oil potentially reduces the harm that a spill may cause.

  • by bill_mcgonigle ( 4333 ) * on Thursday February 14, 2013 @01:39AM (#42892669) Homepage Journal

    However, the density of oil makes it possible to collect it from the top of the ocean without extremely complicated measures.

    Yes ... but ... see, you're making perfect sense here, so that's where you've gone awry.

    There are ships that can suck in the oil slicks and ocean water, dump 97% of the oil into the hold and pump the mostly clean water back into the sea, repeating the process as necessary.

    However, the EPA demanded that in the Macondo spill they not return that 3% water back to the ocean, but instead made them send out tankers to be filled up with the 3% water, which were then transported back to shore for decon.

    The obvious problem there was that the rate of processing of the sea water was limited by how fast those tankers could get out and back and unload, and what the onshore capacity was and what the onshore processing rate was. Being all finite quantities the rate was lowered tremendously from its potential.

    So, using dispersants was the next-least-bad. I used to know their names, but one of them was much less toxic than the other two. Still, the oil separating ships operating at full capacity would have been much better for the environment, but the government was here to help.

  • by RocketRabbit ( 830691 ) on Thursday February 14, 2013 @07:43AM (#42894171)

    You would not want to be exposed to vapors of any of the "dispersants" used during the gulf spill, let alone get them on your skin, mucous membranes, or for fuck's sake ingest them. Aconite is more poisonous than belladonna, but you don't want to eat either one. Same thing here.

Don't tell me how hard you work. Tell me how much you get done. -- James J. Ling