Sign up for email alerts, from breaking news to weekly commentary:
ADDING TOXIC CHEMICALS TO A TOXIC OIL SPILL
Let's say that you have a water well, and a leak from an underground tank at a nearby gasoline station has contaminated your water. Not to worry, says the station owner, for he can fix the problem by dumping a secret mixture of toxic chemicals into your well.
Would you say "thank you" – or immediately dial 911 to tell authorities to come quickly with a large net and a straightjacket?
Astonishingly, this insane scenario is playing right now. The "water well" is the Gulf of Mexico, the gas station contaminator is BP, and the toxic fix is called "dispersants."
With BP's disastrous oil slick filling the Gulf and sliming our shores, the oil giant has already bought a third of the world's supply of dispersants and is spraying them onto the slick. The chemical mixture supposedly breaks the floating oil into tiny droplets that then sink to the sea floor. The good news is that this treatment can minimize the volume of oil that would hit the Gulf coast.
The bad news is that the toxic oil, now mixed with toxic dispersants, doesn't go away – it remains on the seabed or suspended in deep water, where it can migrate great distances, kill fish, be consumed by microscopic organisms... and move up the food chain to our tables.
ProPublica.org reports that manufacturers refuse to release the exact contents of those dispersants, claiming they're a trade secret. Defenders of Wildlife, however, have analyses showing that dispersants have a chemical toxicity "that in many ways is worse than oil."
The industry is literally trying to bury its toxic disaster on the Gulf floor, hoping that by putting it out of sight, we'll put it out of mind. These destructive spills are inevitable and essentially uncontrollable – another reason for emergency action to break America's oil addiction.
"President Warns Of Wide Damage From Gulf Spill," www.nytimes.com, May 3, 2010.
"Chemicals Meant To Break Up BP Oil Spill Present New Environmental Concerns" , ProPublica.org .