Researchers have found significantly higher contamination levels in water, sediment, and seafood collected from the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 during and after BP’s massive Deepwater Horizon oil spill than scientists from federal agencies found, a new report published in the Marine Pollution Journal reveals.According to the New York Times, the study’s findings cast doubts on the sampling methods used by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and its results, which the agency used to determine where and when to reopen 88,000 square miles of Gulf waters closed to commercial and recreational fishing after the spill.
Other non-government studies conducted previously echo the new study’s findings, indicating that levels and distribution of oil contamination were much worse than the U.S. government’s findings.
BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig exploded and sank on April 20, 2010, killing 11 workers and releasing more than 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf. Part of BP’s cleanup strategy involved dumping about two million gallons of Corexit oil dispersant onto the spill while injecting it as it gushed out of the Macondo well about a mile below the surface. The scale of BP’s Corexit use and its untested methods continue to raise concerns that the company may have made the oil spill longer lasting and much more toxic than it would have been otherwise.
One sampling method the NOAA used to determine Gulf toxicity levels involved a device called a Niskin bottle, which collects samples from one point in the water. Dr. Paul Sammarco of the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium said that approach probably wasn’t accurate because BP’s heavy use of Corexit oil dispersants created a patchy environment, making sampling hit or miss situation. Dr. Sammarco also said that the plastic used to make the bottles attracts oily compounds, potentially removing them from the water sample and creating lower contaminant levels in the readings.
Dr. Riki Ott, a marine toxicologist who has studied the environmental impact of the BP oil spill and the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska told the New York Times that she was “totally shocked” by the higher numbers in Dr. Sammarco’s study.
“To see NOAA doing this, that’s inexcusable,” Dr. Ott told the New York Times, referring to the Niskin bottle method. “It has been known since Exxon Valdez that this spotty sampling does not work.”
Because the potential exists for regions of the Gulf to remain polluted with carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and volatile organic compounds, which can impair the immune and nervous systems, Dr. Sammarco recommended that better monitoring be in place before reopening fisheries.
“It’s a good idea to follow these things long term, to make sure the runway is clear so people are safe and the food is safe,” he told the New York Times.