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Environment: Traces of Deepwater Horizon oil cause deformities, swimming deficiencies in Gulf fish

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An explosion and subsequent fire on BP’s Deepwater Horizon drilling platform in the Gulf of Mexico led to the biggest oil spill on recornd in U.S. coastal waters. Photo courtesy U.S. Coast Guard.

Study shows that sunlight intensifies the impacts of PAHs

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — In yet another sign that BP’s spilled Deepwater Horizon may have long-lasting impacts on Gulf ecosystems, a team of researchers said last week that even low-level, short-term exposure to traces of oil remnants causes deformities and impairs the swimming ability of fish.

The research was led by scientists with the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science. The school is a leader in the field of marine toxicology and used a state of the art hatchery to study the effect of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) on various species of fish, including cobia and mahi mahi.

PAH’s are toxic components of oil that are released from oil into the water column. The team also studied the effects of photo-enhanced toxicity, or the impact of sunlight on the potency of the toxic compounds found in the oil from the DWH spill.

A previous study by Smith University scientists showed similar impacts to fish during  embryonic stages of development.

“We found that in more sensitive species the photo-enhanced toxicity could account for up to a 20-fold higher sensitivity,” said Dr. Martin Grosell, professor and associate dean of graduate studies for the Rosenstiel School. “This is an important part of the equation because it means that traditional toxicity testing performed under laboratory conditions will tend to underestimate the toxicity that might have occurred in the natural environment under the influence of sunlight,” he added. Continue reading

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Environment: New study shows dispersant makes oil up to 52 times more toxic to Gulf of Mexico microorganisms

Small grazers at the base of the food chain most directly affected

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Followup studies after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill call into question the extensive use of chemical dispersants. Photo courtesy NOAA.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — The massive amounts of oil that spilled into the Gulf of Mexico after BP’s Deepwater Horizon drill rig exploded was devastating to marine life, but the dispersant used in the aftermath to try and break down the oil slicks may have been even worse for some species, according to new research done by scientists with the Georgia Institute of Technology and Universidad Autonoma de Aguascalientes, Mexico.

Based on laboratory toxicity tests, the study found that the oil-dispersant mix was up to 52 times more toxic to tiny rotifers, microscopic grazers at the base of the Gulf’s food chain.

The researchers tested a mix oil from the spill and Corexit, the dispersant required by the Environmental Protection Agency for clean up, on five strains of rotifers. Rotifers have long been used by ecotoxicologists to assess toxicity in marine waters because of their fast response time, ease of use in tests and sensitivity to toxicants. Continue reading

BP hit with $4.5 billion fine for Gulf oil spill

Company accepts criminal responsibility for 2010 disaster

A NASA satellite captures an image of a swirling oil slick from BP’s failed Deepwater Horizon drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — After spending more than $14 billion on the response to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster, BP will pay another $4.5 billion in penalties under a settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice, the biggest fine ever levied by the department.

Federal officials said they will also pursue gross negligence charges under the Clean Water Act, which could result in up to $20 billion in additional fines, ranging up to $4,300 per barrel of spilled oil.

The explosion killed 11 workers on the drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico and sent millions of gallons of crude oil spewing into the water, damaging fisheries, smearing beaches and wetlands and squelching tourism in the region for months. Followup studies have shown that oil remnants may affect Gulf ecosystems for years to come. Continue reading

Study: Oil from Deepwater Horizon disaster killed marsh plants, accelerated coastal erosion

March ecosystems also helped prevent more extensive damage by blocking oil

The oil slick from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster rotates slowly in the Gulf of Mexico.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Oil from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster killed off salt marsh plants up to 30 feet away from the shoreline along the Gulf Coast, resulting in a doubling erosion rates along some beaches in the area, to more than 10 feet per year of lost shoreline.

“Louisiana is already losing about a football field worth of wetlands every hour, and that was before the spill,” said Brian Silliman, a University of Florida biologist and lead author of a new study that examined the oil spill impacts.

“When grasses die from heavy oiling, their roots, that hold the marsh sediment together, also often die. By killing grasses on the marsh shoreline, the spill pushed erosion rates on the marsh edge to more than double what they were before. Because Louisiana was already experiencing significant erosive marsh loss due to the channelization of the Mississippi, this is a big example of how multiple human stressors can have additive effects,” Silliman said. Continue reading

Environment: New Gulf oil leases challenged in court

A massive oil slick from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster spreads across the northern Gulf of Mexico, visible in this NASA satellite image as a sheen on the surface.

Conservation coalition says feds are ignoring painful lessons of Deepwater Horizon oil disaster

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — New deep water drilling plans in the Gulf of Mexico won’t go forward without a legal test, as a coalition of environmental groups last week challenged the Department of Interior’s decision to proceed with new permits without fully addressing the risks to wildlife and the environment.

While drilling regulators believe they have developed a robust new set of safety and environmental regulations, the conservation community thinks otherwise, claiming in the lawsuit that the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management dismissed the lessons learned during the Deepwater Horizon disaster and failed to obtain essential information about the status of species and resources still suffering from the 2010 oil spill. Continue reading

Environment: Deepwater oil disaster radically altered microbial communities on Gulf Coast beaches

Oil from BP’s failed Deepwater Horizon drill rig and the Macondo well spread across the ocean in May 2010. PHOTO COURTESY NOAA.

Followup research will determine how long the impacts last

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Biologists said they were shocked by the dramatic changes they observed in microbial communities along Gulf of Mexico beaches after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster.

The study led by by scientists from University of New Hampshire’s Hubbard Center for Genome Studies, sampled sites around Dauphin Island, Ala., and Grand Isle, La., just after the Deepwater Horizon spill began but before oil reached the shore, then again several months later, in September 2010. Continue reading

Gulf oil spill: It could’ve been … worse?

Freshwater ‘bulge’ from the Mississippi River may have kept some oil away from the Gulf Coast

A NASA satellite image shows the Deepwater Horizon oil slick spreading across a huge section of the northern Gulf of Mexico.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — The 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster that fouled huge stretches of the northern Gulf Coast could have hit the coast even harder but for the mighty Mississippi, according to geoscientists with the University of Pennsylvania, who said in a new study that pulses of freshwater from the river helped keep some of the oil offshore.

According to Douglas Jerolmack, the force of the Mississippi River emptying into the Gulf of Mexico created mounds of freshwater which pushed some of the oil slick off shore. The results of the study could help responders during future oil disasters decide where to focus preventive and cleanup efforts during the immediate response.

Jerolmack said he decided to do the study after noticing a disconnect between daily forecasts of where the oil movement and the locations where it actually ended up. The problem, he said, was that the models were based on looking the movement of the oil based primarily on known ocean currents, while not considering all the other factors that could affect the incoming pollution.

Other follow-up studies show that the oil continues to have profound effects on Gulf ecoysystems, including elevated levels of metals in oysters, and toxic effects on marine mammals and fish. Continue reading

Environment: Oil from Deepwater Horizon spill causes serious developmental and sensory defects in fish

‘The oil is not gone yet. This disaster is not over. There are embryos right now that are still getting exposed to that oil.’

Zebrafish. PHOTO COURTESY THE WIKIMEDIA COMMONS.

The Deepwater Horizon oil drilling platform after the April 2010 explosion. PHOTO COURTESY U.S. COAST GUARD.

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — Oil from the Deepwater Horizon disaster causes very specific and potentially lethal defects in fish, including heart problems and loss of facial cartilage.

The oil also prevents fish from swimming away from danger, probably because of damage to sensory neurons, according to a study published this week in BioMed Central’s open access journal BMC Biology.

In a controlled lab setting, Dr. Michael Barresi and his students at Smith University in Massachusetts exposed zebrafish (a common freshwater fish often found in aquariums) to concentrations of oil that probably still exist at similar levels in the gulf today, two years after the Macondo Well spewed millions of gallons of crude oil into the Gulf. Continue reading

Environment: Some Gulf of Mexico beaches are still contaminated with a toxic sludge of oil and dispersant

Research show that carcinogenic oil-related PAH compounds are easily absorbed through skin

A beach along Cape San Blas, Florida, where researchers sampled the swash zone for contaminated weathered tar product mixed with dispersant. PHOTO BY BOB BERWYN.

New research in Florida shows contaminated oil product accumulating in the swash zone of Gulf beaches. PHOTO BY BOB BERWYN.

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — Two years after the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, beaches along the northern Gulf of Mexico coastline are far from being clean, says University of South Florida researcher James “Rip” Kirby, who recently documented accumulations of remnant oil with “scary high” concentrations of carcinogenic oil-related compounds. Download the full report or a summary at the Surfrider website.

In fact, the weathered tar product from crude oil dispersed with Corexit were found to have PAH concentrations consistently in excess of limits set to identify danger to life and health — IDHL limits, as defined by NOAA’s Office of Response and Restoration.

In all, 32 sites were sampled; only three were free of PAH contamination. Samples at 26 of the sites exceeded the IDHL limits. Testing was done at beaches between Waveland, Miss. and Cape San Blas, Fla. Continue reading

Gulf oysters tainted with heavy metals from oil spill

Caption: Oyster shells like this one, collected from the Gulf of Mexico after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, have been shown to contain higher concentrations of three heavy metals common in crude oil -- vanadium, cobalt, and chromium -- than specimens collected before the spill.
Credit: California Academy of Sciences

Researchers denied access to pure samples of BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — BP’s oil continues to have toxic after-effects two years after the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster spewed millions of gallons in the Gulf of Mexico.

Scientists tracking the long-term impacts have found devastated corals on the sea floor, sick dolphins in coastal areas and most recently, heavy metal contamination in Gulf oysters linked to the oil.

“While there is still much to be done as we work to evaluate the impact of the Deepwater Horizon spill on the Gulf’s marine food web, our preliminary results suggest that heavy metals from the spill have impacted one of the region’s most iconic primary consumers and may affect the food chain as a whole,” said Dr. Peter Roopnarine, of the California Academy of Sciences.

Roopnarine has detected evidence that pollutants from the oil have entered the ecosystem’s food chain. For the past two years, the team has been studying oysters (Crassostrea virginica) collected both before and after the Deepwater Horizon oil reached the coasts of Louisiana, Alabama, and Florida. Continue reading

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