Oil spill: Senators concerned about dispersants

Breaking up the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico with a chemical dispersant represents a tradeoff that might still hurt the environment, senators and government officials warned Tuesday.

Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., worried that the dispersant called Corexit 9500 could harm the environment while also making the damage less visible by breaking up the oil and settling on the ocean floor.

Senators planned the hearing even before the Gulf spill began with the April 20 explosion of a BP oil rig because of concern about ocean acidification from carbon dioxide. Such acidification hurts shellfish like oysters by dissolving their shells.

“It is hard for species to survive in an environment that dissolves them,” said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I.

Corals and shellfish provide benefits to fisheries, tourism, recreation and shoreline stabilization worth $7.6 billion in Florida, according to a 2001 study supported by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“Evidence to date shows that ocean acidification could adversely affect these benefits,” said Nancy Stoner, deputy assistant EPA administrator for water.

But Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., said the amount of EPA research on ocean acidification doesn’t sound like much.

EPA is spending $2 million this year to study ocean acidification, as part of about $1.3 billion budgeted for ocean research by all agencies such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

“It’s a relatively small amount,” Stoner said. “This is a new area of research for us.”

Bart Jansen, pnj.com, 11 May 2010. Full article.

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