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Oil Spill Dispersants Lingered in Deep Ocean

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A crucial component of the chemical dispersant applied to oil gushing from BP’s blown-out well in the Gulf of Mexico last year did not break down as fast as scientists initially expected and probably remains at detectable levels in the deep ocean, scientists said on Wednesday.

Traces of the dispersant compound were found in September more than 150 miles from the well site, researchers with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute said in their report.

The levels found in ocean samples were extremely low, however — just a few parts per billion — and past studies suggest that such concentrations do not pose a significant threat to sea life, said Elizabeth B. Kujawinski, lead author of the study, which will appear in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.

“Everything that has been done in the past would suggest that the concentrations that were down there were not toxic,” Dr. Kujawinski said in an interview.

The study was the first to document the fate of the roughly 800,000 gallons of dispersant that were applied directly to the wellhead to break up oil before it reached the surface. Government scientists estimate that more than 172 million gallons of oil spilled into the gulf’s waters.

The study suggests that the dispersant compound, dioctyl sodium sulfoscuccinate, was not consumed rapidly by ocean bacteria, which quickly broke apart plumes of oil and methane gas particles drifting through the deep sea, studies have shown.

“The methane is essentially gone,” Dr. Kujawinski said. “The dispersant is still there.”

But while the chemical may not have been broken down by bacteria, it has been widely dispersed into the ocean through natural processes and should be virtually undetectable within several months, she added.


One Comment on "Oil Spill Dispersants Lingered in Deep Ocean"

  1. Kenz300 on Fri, 28th Jan 2011 2:01 am 

    Oil spills, nuclear accidents and waste disposal problems….. Global warming issues with fossil fuels….

    Wind, solar, geothermal and wave energy are safe, clean forms of alternative energy and do not have the same safety issues or concerns.

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