Dispersant Worries

An Air Force plane drops an oil-dispersing chemical into the Gulf of Mexico as part of the Deepwater Horizon response effort.© Technical Sergeant Adrian Cadiz

At a press conference last Monday, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson announced that the dispersant that BP is using on the oil spill off of the Gulf Coast, called Corexit, is being used in unprecedented ways and unprecedented quantities—over 840,000 gallons and counting. The use of the dispersants under the surface of the water at the source of the leak has so far shown no major environmental impacts and is being monitored continuously. Nalco, which makes Corexit, reports on their website that the dispersant breaks the oil into small droplets that are biodegradable and sink below the surface water, so as to be less of a hazard to wildlife.

There are signs that the dispersant is working, but not without consequences: Corexit may have caused the illness of seven cleanup workers, with symptoms including nausea and shortness of breath. The EPA has asked BP to scale back the amount of the chemical combination being used and continue looking for a less toxic dispersant, as its long-term affects on marine life are still unknown. Jackson later announced that the EPA will now do its own "scientific verification" of BP’s data.

In the meantime, BP’s proposed "top kill" plan to plug the spewing oil leak with heavy amounts of mud went into effect last Wednesday, but was unfortunately deemed a failure and abandoned over the weekend. Due to the failed top kill method, according to the Associated Press, BP is planning to create two "relief wells" that will be drilled diagonally into the spewing pipe. However, the wells will not be finished until August at the earliest. Until then, BP has decided to try another temporary fix for the spill, this time one where they will saw through the pipe and cap it, in order to siphon the oil to the water’s surface.

SOURCES: Associated Press; Popular Science.