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BP oil spill dispersants still in environment
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BP oil spill dispersants still in environment

By Kimberly Blair kblair@pnj.com

Despite claims by BP and government agencies, dispersants have not evaporated

A common ingredient in human laxatives and in the controversial dispersants that was used to break down oil from the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill is still being found in tar balls four years later along Gulf Coast beaches including Perdido Key.

This finding in a new study contradicts the message that the chemical dispersant quickly evaporated from the environment, which BP and EPA officials were telling a public who grew outraged over the widespread use of the chemicals in the Gulf of Mexico in the weeks following the April 20, 2010, oil spill disaster.

More than 1.8 million gallons of chemical dispersant was used on oil slicks and injected subsurface to prevent oil from fouling beaches and marshes.

Scientists at Haverford College and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, whose research paper was published in Environment Science & Technology Letters, say it's important for other scientists studying the impacts of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster to know dispersant is still present.

The study, according to a news release from Woods Hole, examined samples from deep sea corals and surrounding sediments collected in December 2010 along with oil-soaked sand patties found along Gulf Coast beaches from July 2010 to the present.

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The dispersant chemical DOSS persisted in variable quantities in deep-coral communities six months after the spill and 26 to 45 months on beaches, Helen White, an assistant professor of chemistry with Haverford College in Pennsylvania, pointed out.

"These results indicated that the dispersant, which was thought to undergo rapid degradation in the water column, remains associated with oil in the environment and can persist for around four years," she said.

The scientists expected to find dispersants degrading more slowly in the cold, dark depths of the deep sea.

"The interesting thing is that the sand patties we're finding on beaches four years after the spill have DOSS in them. That was somewhat unexpected," co-author Elizabeth Kujawinski of Woods Hole in Massachusetts said.

The tar patties and tar balls are often referred to as weathered because they've been exposed to the weather, wave action, temperature changes and air, which were believed to provide more opportunities for the dispersant to dissipate.

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