The Great Gulf Chemical Experiment

The Gulf Coast oil spill cleanup has involved the daily release of chemical dispersants on the surface and deep underwater.
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Documents now show that chemical dispersants were used heavily in trying to mitigate the massive BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, despite concerns over their toxicity. A Washington Post article reports that although the Obama administration issued an order to use dispersants only in rare instances, since the chemical mixture's widespread impact on wildlife and human health were unknown, the Coast Guard nonetheless approved their use 74 times over 54 days, both on the surface and deep underwater. Since the government's order, BP needed special waivers to use the dispersant—waivers it filed and received on a daily basis.

Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) wrote a letter to retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad W. Allen who is in charge of the government oversight of spill clean-up efforts that “these exemptions are in no way a "rare" occurrence, and have allowed surface application of the dispersant to occur virtually every day since the directive was issued.”

While the dispersants have been effective in breaking up massive sheets of oil, preventing such sheets from reaching the coastline, it might be creating untold ecological damage offshore. Side effects could include depleting oxygen, pushing oil through fish and coral habitat and the poisoning of fish and aquatic wildlife. Though dispersants were used to help clean up the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska in 1989, promises to study the long-term effects of the chemicals were never honored.

SOURCE: Washington Post.