Back in early May, I interviewed experts on dispersants and oil spill clean up and wrote “Out of Sight: BP’s dispersants are toxic “” but not as toxic as dispersed oil.”
Chemically dispersing oil spills “solves the political problem of visible oil but not the environmental problem,” Robert Brulle, a 20-year Coast Guard veteran and an affiliate professor of public health at Drexel University, told me. These dispersants “do not actually reduce the total amount of oil entering the environment,” as a 2005 National Academy of Sciences report on the subject put it. Nobody has any idea what will be the impact of massive exposure to these toxic chemicals on organisms that live on the bottom or feed off the bottom of the ocean.
In short: out of sight, out of mind. But not out of the body of marine life.
The dispersants seem to have done their job — and keeping oil off sensitive coastal habitats is a very good thing. But some in the media seem to have confused not seeing oil with not being harmed by it.
In fact, as Science reports, “Oil Contamination of Crab Larvae Could Be Widespread“:
Researchers have found droplets of oil inside crab larvae in the Gulf of Mexico. Although preliminary, the findings represent the first sign of hydrocarbons from the Deepwater Horizon well entering the food web.
Wonk Room’s Brad Johnson has more on the premature declaration of “Mission Accomplished”:
In a contrarian take today, Time Magazine‘s Michael Grunwald wrote a preemptive post-mortem impact of BP’s Deepwater Horizon disaster, saying that it “does not seem to be inflicting severe environmental damage. Grunwald believes that Rush Limbaugh “has a point” because the right-wing radio host spent weeks dismissing the disaster. New York Times reporters Justin Gillis and Campbell Robertson wrote that the “oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico appears to be dissolving far more rapidly than anyone expected.” The Associated Press’s John Carey believes “the oil slicks that once spread across thousands of miles of the Gulf of Mexico have largely disappeared.” The narrative of the disappearing disaster has been promoted by Politico’s Mike Allen and the Drudge Report.
Meanwhile, the oil blowout has been contained but not killed, oil continues to wash ashore, and the haphazard scientific effort to understand the 100-day disaster is hobbled by BP’s interference and governmental lassitude. It’s fair to point out, as Grunwald does, that the oil disaster’s impact on Louisiana’s shoreline is likely to be meaningless if the marshlands continue to disappear. Fringe rumors of global eco-collapse “” never promoted by major environmental groups “” continue to be as baseless as the nonsense spouted by conservative activists, media, and politicians on behalf of the oil industry.
However, the only honest take on the BP disaster right now is that this is a calamity, the true scope of which will take years to discover, with many impacts impossible to ever know. No one knows how badly this disaster will affect the dying marshlands of Louisiana. No one knows how badly the toxic oil plumes will affect the spawning grounds of the bluefin tuna, the feeding grounds of the threatened Gulf sturgeon, or the future of the endangered Kemp’s ridley sea turtles, whose corpses have been found at 15 times the historical rate this summer. No one knows what the long-term physical and mental health impacts will be on the tens of thousands of cleanup workers.
Moreover, it is undoubtedly premature to announce that the vast oil slick has largely disappeared from the ocean’s surface. Thick oil, vast slicks, and tar balls continue to wash ashore along Louisiana’s coastline. Satellite imagery from July 27 and 28 “” as the stories of disappearing oil were being filed “” show a vast region still discolored by slicks and sheen, little diminished from previous weeks:At the Gulf Restoration Network, Matthew Preusch reports that scientists like George Crozier, executive director of the University of South Alabama’s Dauphin Island Sea Lab, are deeply concerned about the undersea dispersed oil:
“A lot of our eggs and larvae are in the top 100 meters, so as this cloud of toxins spreads upward, we’re making an assumption that its killing all of them,” he said. “I absolutely hate the use of dispersants at depth. I think that was the most huge of mistake in the process of containment.” Last week, a group of prominent marine researchers released a statement calling for the end of the use of dispersants in the Gulf, saying, “Corexit dispersants, in combination with crude oil, pose grave health risks to marine life and human health.”