More damning evidence that the Gulf is still sick

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Earlier this week, I presented the first part of some research showing that more than four years after the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe — at a moment in which BP is mounting a furious and at times a bit ridiculous PR campaign to show that everything is back to normal — in fact the Gulf of Mexico is still very, very sick. I noted the non-stop assault on our beaches of tar balls and gooey tar mats from BP oil that spilled back in 2010, and how our precious marine life is diseased and depleted. Over the next few days, I will present some additional research on the ways that BP is breaking its promises to the Gulf Coast.

In the meantime, current events seem to be getting ahead of me. No sooner had I posted this research than a couple of new reports added powerful new evidence that environmental conditions in the Gulf are much worse than BP is claiming and — as a result of untold millions of dollars that the British oil giant spends on its PR spin — are also worse than most American citizens know.

The first piece of devastating news involved Corexit, the toxic dispersant that was heavily used to make the oil disappear from public view, even though it didn’t go away.  BP, with the government’s blessing, sprayed 1.8 million gallons of Corexit into the Gulf.

It’s still there:

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.

Here’s more:

The dispersant chemical…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 [dispersant] in them. That was somewhat unexpected,” co-author Elizabeth Kujawinski of Woods Hole in Massachusetts said.

That’s alarming news — especially when combined with the knowledge that BP-caused tar balls also contain other dangerous substances, including a type of flesh-eating bacteria. With so much pollution still in the water, it shouldn’t be a surprise that the Gulf is in worse shape than experts predicted. Here’s a troubling report that emerged later in the week:

 Scientists at Penn State University have discovered two new coral reefs near the site of BP’s historic 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and the impacts to those reefs from the spill have been greater than expected, according to research released Monday.

The two additional reefs found by the PSU team were both farther away and deeper than the one coral reef that had previously been found to have been impacted by the spill. That indicates not only that marine ecosystems may be more greatly affected, but that some of the 210 million gallons of oil that BP spilled into the Gulf is making its mark in the deep sea.

“The footprint of the impact of the spill on coral communities is both deeper and wider than previous data indicated,” PSU biology professor Charles Fisher, who led the study, said.

Fisher told the website Think Progress:

This isn’t just about corals. Corals are a great indicator species, because if something happens to them on the sea floors, they don’t just die and wash away. They’re attached to the sea floor and their skeleton stays there. So they are an indicator that this impact from the oil spill reached that far away. If fish had died, we wouldn’t know because they wouldn’t be there by the time we got there. The corals are the evidence that there are impacts at those sites.

So what is the takeaway from these new findings? I’d say quite simply it’s this: Our politicians and other leaders need to look at BP and the Gulf of Mexico not as an historical event, but as an ongoing environmental and humanitarian crisis that requires their full attention. Indeed, I would urge a new round of congressional hearings on both the state of the Gulf and on BP’s efforts to undermine its obligations to the small business owners and other residents of the surrounding region. These new findings make a mockery of BP’s insistence that it is paying out too much. Considering the damage, BP has done not nearly enough.

Read more from the Pensacola News-Journal about the ongoing presence of Corexit in Gulf tar balls: http://www.pnj.com/story/news/2014/07/26/bp-oil-spill-dispersants-still-environment/13213759/

Check out this report from Think Progress about damage to the coral reefs near the Deepwater Horizon disaster: http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2014/07/29/3465261/bp-oil-spill-coral-reefs/

Here is my in-depth report from July 28, “The Gulf Is Still Sick” http://www.stuarthsmith.com/in-depth-the-gulf-is-still-sick/

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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