The BP oil leak has reportedly been plugged, but the devastation caused by the hundreds of millions of gallons of oil that poured into the Gulf, coupled with a reckless use of toxic dispersants to "clean it up," is just beginning.
And the sad truth is, even highly trained toxicologists can only guess what the full extent of the damage will be. This is, by far, the worst oil spill in human history. The Exxon Valdez disaster spilled "only" 12 million gallons of oil -- and even that ended up taking a much more complex environmental toll than toxicologists initially predicted.
There's no doubt in my mind this disaster will take DECADES to clean up, if it's at all possible, and the worst-case scenario is pointing to major devastation on all levels of marine life, from coral reefs and plankton to fish and air-breathing mammals.
Where Did the Massive Oil Slicks Go?
Since the April 20 explosion on the Deepwater Horizon, thousands of square miles in the Gulf were covered with immense patches of oil.
Media images showing the extent of the destruction have been scarce -- draconian measures have been implemented to limit media access and reporting on the disaster, and CNN recently reported on a new rule that prevents anyone, including reporters and photographers, from coming within 65 feet of any response vessel or booms anywhere on the water or on beaches -- but the oil was there, coating expansive stretches of ocean, nonetheless.
Now, fast-forward to early August and the New York Times reported that the oil patches are "largely gone," and "Radar images suggest that the few remaining patches are quickly breaking down in the warm surface waters of the gulf." They went on to report, "The slick appeared to be dissolving far more rapidly than anyone expected."
Two days earlier, a government report released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Geological Survey similarly implied that the oil in the Gulf was quickly disappearing and that environmental effects were well under control.
Government Report Implies Oil is Mostly Gone!
For starters, the report estimated that only 4.9 million barrels of oil were released from the BP Deepwater Horizon well, when at the height of the spill estimates revealed that 4.2 million gallons of oil were likely still spilling into the Gulf of Mexico daily.
Next the report goes on to explain that:
"It is estimated that burning, skimming and direct recovery from the wellhead removed one quarter (25%) of the oil released from the wellhead. One quarter (25%) of the total oil naturally evaporated or dissolved, and just less than one quarter (24%) was dispersed (either naturally or as a result of operations) as microscopic droplets into Gulf waters.
The residual amount — just over one quarter (26%) — is either on or just below the surface as light sheen and weathered tar balls, has washed ashore or been collected from the shore, or is buried in sand and sediments."
The remaining "residual" oil, along with the oil that has been chemically and naturally dispersed are "currently being degraded naturally," according to the government report.
With a glowing report like this one, it makes you wonder if the U.S. government is in collusion with BP. Already the report is drawing criticism that it is deliberately trying to play down the real impacts of the spill.
As Samantha Joye, a marine scientist at the University of Georgia who has conducted important research regarding the spill, told the New York Times:
"A lot of this is based on modeling and extrapolation and very generous assumptions. If an academic scientist put something like this out there, it would get torpedoed into a billion pieces."
You can also listen to this shocking interview with top EPA official Hugh Kaufman, which reveals that the NOAA and the EPA are covering up the lethal effects of dispersants and lying about Gulf Oil Spill water samples to save BP billions of dollars in fines.
At the very least, it appears the government has completely overlooked the toxic effects of the dispersants used to "remove" much of the oil. Massive oil slicks don't just "disappear" from the ocean. Instead, many were treated with harsh chemical solvents that simply transferred the oil from the ocean's surface to the delicate waters below.
Toxic Dispersants: The Oil Spill Tragedy You Probably Haven't Heard About
BP is using two dispersants: Corexit 9500 and Corexit 9527A.
Corexit is on the EPA's list of approved chemical dispersants, and BP could have chosen any one from the list. Instead, they chose Corexit, which is among the most toxic and least effective options.
As it turns out, BP has financial ties with Nalco, which explains why they have now poured more than 1 million gallons of it into the Gulf. Because of these industry ties, Corexit is the only dispersant available in the massive quantities "needed" for an oil spill of this size.
In fact, they used up all exiting stockpiles of Corexit 9527A, the older and more dangerous formula, and Nalco states it will be discontinued, now that it has been used up.
Of all 18 dispersants tested, Corexit 9500 and 9527A are the LEAST effective, further confirming that BP's preferential use of these products is motivated by profit, rather than their proclaimed intention to "clean up the mess."
Toxic for Humans and Marine Life
Corexit products were removed from a list of approved treatments for oil spills in the UK more than a decade ago after the agents were linked with human health problems including:
- Blood disorders
Further, according to Carys Mitchelmore, a researcher at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, the detergent-like brew of solvents, surfactants and other compounds are known to cause a variety of health problems in animals, including:
- Reduced growth
- Reproductive problems
- Cardiac dysfunction
- Immune suppression
- Altered behavior
- Carcinogenic, mutagenic, and teratogenic effects
As Sayer Ji, founder of InformationToInspireChange.com, stated:
"Dispersing the oil into the water column accelerates the poisoning of all marine life, deep throughout the water column and seabed. Ultimately it results in "covering-up" the extent of the disaster on the surface, while amplifying the damage within our oceans.
Also, when the dispersants mix with the crude oil, a third far more toxic product is produced called "dispersed oil." Dispersed oil has been shown to be more toxic than the sum of its parts.
Dispersing simply keeps the oil deeper in the water column so that it will not surface, into the light of public scrutiny."
The chemical dispersants, by the way, are not a silver bullet to miraculously make oil disappear. Oil spill dispersants only alter the chemical and physical properties of the oil, making it more likely to mix with seawater than deposit on the shoreline.
So what the dispersants do is re-direct the oil, making its impact perhaps less so on birds and shore-dwelling animals, but more so on fish, coral reefs, oysters and other marine life that live in the deeper waters. It essentially "hides" the oil out of view, below the surface where news cameras can't see it.
Sadly, the oil and dispersant mix is so toxic that I strongly caution you to STAY OUT of the Gulf of Mexico. In my opinion, it's simply not safe to swim there.
Remember also that children are far more prone to experiencing health problems from this type of toxic exposure than adults. So please, keep your children safe. Do not allow your children to swim or play on the Gulf coast beaches.
Is There Any Way to Help?
Only time will tell what the true environmental and human health impacts of the 2010 BP oil spill will be, but this is for certain: we need our oceans, our coral reefs and our marine life to survive.
Coral reefs are already disappearing faster than rainforests, and dispersed oil is particularly deadly to coral reefs.
According to Charlie Veron, an Australian marine biologist regarded as the world's foremost authority on coral reefs:
"The future is horrific. There is no hope of reefs surviving to even mid-century in any form that we now recognize. If, and when, they go, they will take with them about one-third of the world's marine biodiversity. Then there is a domino effect, as reefs fail, so will other ecosystems. This is the path of a mass extinction event, when most life, especially tropical marine life, goes extinct."
You may feel helpless right now to make a difference in the Gulf, but there are some steps you can take to help. First, you can join the movement to stop the use of dispersants by signing this petition.
I also urge you to take action now, without delay, pressing your representatives to hold BP accountable for this massive environmental tragedy.