Use of chemical dispersants against oil spill questioned


Officials battling an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico can’t claim victory simply by keeping the oil offshore with the use of chemicals, a Florida State University researcher said Monday.

BP says 315,000 gallons of chemical dispersants have been used since the oil spill began April 21 off the Louisiana coast. The Coast Guard says it prefers to battle the oil offshore to prevent ecological damage caused by having it wash ashore.

But Felicia Coleman, director of the FSU Coastal and Marine Laboratory in St. Teresa, told the Florida Tribune that those chemicals and the dispersed oil could harm a variety of species, including gag grouper, and their offshore habitats. A National Academy of Sciences report in 2005 said the dispersants can kill fish eggs and that dispersed oil in Oregon had accumulated in mussels, according to the publication ProPublica.

FSU’s Coleman said corals may be relatively unaffected by a slick that passes over them but may be harmed by dispersed oil and chemical dispersants. Likewise, gag grouper could be affected as they move from being eggs on the sea bottom far offshore with chemical dispersants “raining down on them” to their larval stage in the water column. Or if the oil slick isn’t broken up, those gag grouper could be affected as juvenile fish growing to maturity in the sea grass meadows closer to shore.

Coleman said the impact on the environment is being changed — not eliminated — with the use of chemical dispersants to keep the oil offshore. “You’ve traded being able to view it in a coastal environment with not seeing it in the offshore,” she said. “Does that make it less damaging ecologically? I doubt it. It just makes it less visible.”

Jack Rudloe, a manager of the Gulf Specimen Marine Laboratory in Panacea, told an oil spill response meeting in Franklin County on Monday that the chemical dispersants should not be used. “I would rather deal with the thickest blob of the nastiest oil there is than to see the oil broken into micro-particles,” he said.

Chris Doolin, representing the Small County Coalition of Florida, said he wasn’t sure where he stood on the use of the chemical dispersants but he added, ” I don’t want it (oil) on my beach in St. Teresa.”

Andrew Jubal Smith, executive director of the Apalachicola Riverkeeper group, said the Waterkeeper Alliance was opposed to chemical dispersants. BP officials could not be reached for comment.

(U.S. Air Force Photo by Tech. Sgt. Adrian Cadiz. Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Do not copy or redistribute without permission.)