Scientists raise oil clean-up chemical fear
Published 16/05/2010 | 05:00
SCIENTISTS have raised urgent new concerns over the latest efforts to mitigate the catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico caused by the oil rig explosion on BP's Deepwater Horizon.
Latest efforts to limit the environmental damage involve an untried deep-water technique, using a toxic dispersant that they believe may damage ocean life. But the new method has so far only succeeded in ratcheting up the growing controversy surrounding the spill.
On Friday, Barack Obama appeared to be losing his patience with oil company executives and officials who have been trading blame since the rig exploded.
"I will not tolerate more finger pointing or irresponsibility," he said in the White House rose garden, flanked by members of his cabinet. "The system failed, and it failed badly. And for that, there is enough responsibility to go around. And all parties should be willing to accept it."
Approval by the US Environment Protection Agency (EPA) for the pumping of tens of thousands of litres of the chemical Corexit 9500 on to the seabed early yesterday, comes despite warnings from Louisiana state health officials, scientists and fishermen that the technique is untested and potentially hazardous to marine life and the wider ecosystem. Louisiana officials claim BP and the EPA ignored their concerns about how the chemicals may harm the sea floor. Until now, Corexit 9500 has been approved for surface use only.
Chemical dispersants break oil into small globules, allowing it to disperse more quickly into the water or air before currents can wash it ashore. Louisiana health and hospitals secretary Alan Levine said federal regulators have been too quick to dismiss worries about the chemicals: "Our concerns about the use of these dispersants underwater is based on the fact that there is virtually no science that supports the use of those chemicals.
"We're trading off what we know is going to be environmental damage on the surface for environmental damage of a level we don't know that is going to be under the surface."
"Dispersants. . . are toxic to marine life, so there are trade-offs to consider," David Pettit of the Natural Resources Defence Council said last week. "And just because humans can't see oil on the surface doesn't mean it's not still in the water column, affecting marine life from plankton to whales."