Effects of Oil Spill Solutions

Oil booms, sand bags, a junk shot, a containment dome... So far, most of the containment and clean up efforts have been physical. Only surface oil has been hit with chemical dispersants. After the failure of BP's containment dome due to an ice-clogged pipe, the company may be forced to try less-researched methods. While they will first try to plug up the spewing well with shredded tires, golf balls, and other junk, using dispersants at greater depths is the runner up option.

Unfortunately, very little research has been done on the effects of using dispersants at such a depth. Thousands of gallons of dispersants have already been applied to the surface oil, and while the toxic heavy metals present in the dispersants pose a threat to the organisms living in the Gulf, the consensus is that they pose less threat than the oil itself. Dispersants work in the same matter as dish soap on grease. They break up the oil into small droplets which then dilute in the water.

At greatest risk are fish larvae from species that use the Gulf as spawning grounds. Bluefin tuna, red snapper, and spotted seatrout are three primary recreationally important species currently spawning, and the contaminated waters could be deadly. Natural light has been suggested to increase the toxicity of the oil-dispersant mixture which would be a danger to such translucent organisms as fish larvae. Others at high risk are filter feeders such as whale sharks all the way down to oysters and mussels. Ultimately, any creatures living or visiting the area are threatened. The effects on birds have only been scantily tested (and only in labs); dispersants might damage birds' abilities to regulate body temperature.

Despite these concerns, this solution still appears by experts to be the lesser of two evils. Certainly, the chemicals in dispersants are less toxic than those in the crude oil spilling out by 5,000 barrels a day. It's going to be years before anyone sees the full effects, and "the environmental impact of so much dispersant at one site remains widely unknown," Environmental Protection Agency officials admit.