While oil spills can cause severe environmental damage to the organisms living in the affected waters, the consequences of using oil dispersants to rectify the spill can make the situation even worse, according to a study published in the journal Environmental Pollution, reported NBCNews.com.
The study found that the mixture of oil and dispersant can create a mixture 52 times more toxic than the oil itself.
“There is a synergistic interaction between crude oil and the dispersant that makes it more toxic,” said study co-author and Georgia Tech biologist Terry Snell.
The researchers studied the effect on plankton of oil from the same well that leaked into the Gulf of Mexico during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill mixed with the same dispersant used to clean it up. The potential impact of the toxins can reach all the way to whales through the food chain.
Because the dispersants decrease the size of the oil droplets, it becomes more “bio-available” to organisms living in the water.
A 2010 EPA study did not find that the combination of oil and dispersant was any more toxic than the oil itself, but other studies have also found harmful effects of the mixture on water life.
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