Dispersant Meant to Help Oil Spill Actually Proves Harmful
Temple University. "Dispersant used to clean deepwater horizon spill more toxic to corals than the oil." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 9 April 2015.
The 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico may sound like old news, but the effects of this spill may still linger in the deep ocean ecosystems it originally affected. According to a study conducted by Temple University and Pennsylvania State University, the dispersants that were actually used to help clean up the oil spill may be the exact substance that is causing the declining health of corals over time. When researchers exposed three specific oil species to the oil and then to the dispersant separately, they found that the dispersant was more toxic in lower concentrations in comparison to the oil. When conducting the test, it took a lower concentration of the dispersant to kill each coral species than the oil. Since the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill marked the first time dispersants were actually applied at the depths of the oceans, it is clear that the dispersants were able to easily reach the corals that lay below. This course of action came across as an experiment because they didn't know what would happen when applying the dispersant, but they wanted to solve the problem immediately. The dispersant that was originally supposed to help the situation quickly turned out to become just as harmful if not more than the oil. As a result, the researchers hope that these findings will help develop future strategies for applying dispersants that would be harmful to the environment.
One of the ethical issues that arises in this news is the fact that an entire ecosystem is being affected by this dispersant mistake. Since coral reefs are homes to millions of different organisms and species, their deaths from the dispersant means that the organisms that live and coexist with the coral are also being affected. When corals die, some species become homeless. When the corals absorb the toxic dispersant, the animals that feed on the corals also absorb the same toxins. To make matters worse, this also poses a problem to humans. When fisherman capture fish near these reefs that will eventually be eaten by human beings, this potentially means that we are ingesting the same toxic dispersant as well. One immediate gratification solution can lead to a chain reaction of consequences that will be even more difficult to fix.
I think that this poses a hard situation to fix, but I am not really sure if I can blame people for wanting to fix the solution right away by using the dispersant. The dispersant had worked in the past on the surface of the water, and the oil that was spilled totaled five billion barrels of crude oil. As a result, I see why they urgently took measures to try and stop it even if consequences were unknown. I just think that one of our priorities pertaining to this issue now is to work on substances that could help clean oil spills but have little to no harmful impact on the ocean or the animals that live there. I think that would also be more productive and efficient if we thought of hypothetical situations (such as oil spilling deep in the ocean) that would pose threats so that we could be more prepared when they actually happen. For instance, a deep sea oil spill had never occurred until 2010, so if companies were prepared for a situation like this and had a course of action ready, we would not have to deal with an issue in which we have to take costly risks in order to stop the problem.
Is it always better to solve environmental issues immediately without necessarily knowing the consequences, or is it better to take a more gradual approach--even if it means the problem could fester for a longer amount of time?