BP’s oil, vanishing insects and “the butterfly effect”


I have to confess: I’m a little surprised — and gratified — at the extent to which mainstream media outlets have suddenly become focused on the lingering and sometimes catastrophic effects of both BP’s 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill and the botched cover-up-disguised-as-cleanup using the toxic chemical Corexit. BP has spent tens of millions of dollars of its gargantuan profits on a PR campaign to spin the American people that everything is back to normal in the Gulf. But the arrival of the third anniversary of the catastrophe last week prompted journalists and others to take a second look, and they were appalled at what they saw: Clean-up workers coping with headaches, nausea, and worse; vast expanses of critical wetlands destroyed or still oiled, and damage to key marine and coastal species.

The Advocate out of Baton Rouge, had a front-page scoop this week about an underreported issue on that last count. It seems that exposure to oil and its airborne fumes has had a devastating impact on some insect life:

Louisiana’s coastal marshes can be noisy places with insects buzzing and chirping constantly, but that’s no longer the case in some places.

“What happened after the Deepwater Horizon is when we came to marsh impacted by the oil, they were relatively silent,” said Linda Hooper-Bui, associate professor in the Department of Entomology at LSU.

Preliminary results from field work and lab experiments point to two oil components — naphthalene and methylnaphthlane — to be at least part of an explanation for large declines in insect populations within oiled or previously oiled areas of coastal marsh, she said.

“We have results, good information, that these are increasing and that this is an emerging problem,” Hooper-Bui said of the two compounds.

The mystery is why the compounds are increasing, she said.

The article goes on to describe some things that are both puzzling and confounding. For one thing, the scientists found that levels of these two toxic compounds are increasing, even though you would expect them to be falling some three years after the oil spill. The problem is occurring in some areas that appeared to receive what looked initially to be relative small amounts of oil. Scientific studies showed that exposure to simply the air — and not the actual oil or contaminated soil — killed off crickets. And critical ant colonies are disappearing as well.

This is very disturbing news. Many of you are no doubt familiar with “the butterfly effect” — the notion that if a time traveller went far enough back in time and killed just one butterfly, it would result in noticeable changes to today’s world (there’s no way of testing this, though.) I fear that what we’re discovering in the Gulf is a real-life version of “the butterfly effect.”

Look, I grew up here in New Orleans, and no one likes to be pestered by one of our swamp bugs. But the reality is that these insects are a key part of the very foundation of our eco-system. Losing entire species of bugs will have unpredictable consequences for other coastal creatures, and that will eventually impact humans…negatively, to be sure.

 To read the entire Advocate piece on soiled insects, please go to: http://theadvocate.com/home/5792972-125/insects-fall-silent-in-oiled

Read my April 20 post about the three-year anniversay of the BP spill and the Corexit scandal at: https://www.stuarthsmith.com/3-year-anniversary-bombshell-whistleblower-says-bp-covered-up-health-risks-of-corexit/

© Smith Stag, LLC 2013 – All Rights Reserved

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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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