One tactic that BP will be using to try to contain the oil spill in the Gulf Coast is to use chemical dispersants. It’s a case of the cure being almost as bad as the disease. CNN called Dr. Riki Ott, a marine toxicology expert and author of Not One Drop: Betrayal and Courage in the Wake of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill, to find out what the effects will be on the next several generations of marine life.
WHITFIELD: All right, back to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The president toured the area today and also talked about BP being responsible for this spill, BP being responsible for the clean- up. But the federal government was going to try in the best supportive role as it can to reduce the crisis.
So we’re going to talk right now with a marine toxicologist, Riki Ott. She’s coming out of Denver. And we know that dispersants are being used — BP is using dispersants to try to soak up some of that oil. I want to talk to you a little bit about that in a moment.
But first, talk to us about this oil slick. It is growing. We understand it is closely encroaching further on the Louisiana coast, Alabama, Mississippi coasts. And while there are booms that have been put in place, they’re not holding the oil. But talk to us about why you say the oil on the surface is not the biggest problem, but that there is a cloud, the oil has depth, and that getting to that is a huge challenge.
RIKI OTT, MARINE TOXICOLOGIST: This is Louisiana sweet crude, and it’s got a lot of what’s called “light ends,” which evaporate very quickly into the air and also dissolve very readily into the water column. So what you see on the surface is like the tip of the iceberg. Really, there is — imagine a big cumulus cloud of dissolved and dispersed oil under the slick, wherever it is. And that…
WHITFIELD: And we have a graphic to kind of demonstrate what you’re talking about, this cloud beneath the surface. Continue.
OTT: And that cloud is extremely toxic to everything in the water column — shellfish, eggs and embryos — so shrimp eggs and young life forms that are in the water column, young fish. And so what you’re going to see, what the president is talking about — British Petroleum will pay for damages. You’re not even going to see the damages for a — until a couple of generations out. Yes, fisheries will be closed right now, but what about the year class, this year class that should materialize? On down the line, when they’re not there, will BP be there to pay for that?
WHITFIELD: Everything that is nesting right now, whether it be in the seagrass area, everything that is laying its eggs, like you mention, the shrimp eggs at the bottom — well talk to me — all of that in jeopardy. Talk to me now about these dispersants and how they work. We’ve heard generally how these dispersants kind of attach themselves to the oil. It gets heavy, absorbed, and it goes down to the bottom. But the bottom of the gulf is vital in the reproductivity of marine life.
OTT: OK. A couple of things. The only proper place for dispersants, if they’re used at all, is in open ocean water, where there’s a huge volume of water to dilute, literally dilute the toxin.