An Al Jazeera must watch

If you are concerned in the least about the environmental risks of drilling, don’t miss Al Jazeera’s latest feature report from the Gulf of Mexico, “Gulf seafood deformities alarm scientists.”

This reporting is so scary — it paints a picture of devastation that flies in the face of the feel good, everything is fine, BP-sponsored “My Gulf” ad campaign. Mutant shrimp and crabs. Dead dolphins. Strange lesions and tumors on fish. Missing eyes and oil-soaked gills. Dramatic declines in catch levels since the Deepwater Horizon disaster. It’s a nightmare and it appears that this is only just beginning.

These stories — you can read them if you go to specialist websites, community forums and local papers, but they don’t get much national media coverage. The Al Jazeera report performs an extremely important public service by bringing this information to a large, international audience.

I’m always going on about dispersants as they are routinely used in the Gulf of Guinea with minimal oversight. As I’ve said before there are numerous allegations of dispersants used to cover up smaller spills — a practice that allows oil companies to avoid reporting smaller incidents. Some environmental researchers believe that the dispersants may be more dangerous than the oil.

Here’s an excerpt from Al Jazeera’s report:

“The dispersants used in BP’s draconian experiment contain solvents, such as petroleum distillates and 2-butoxyethanol. Solvents dissolve oil, grease, and rubber,” Dr Riki Ott, a toxicologist, marine biologist and Exxon Valdez survivor told Al Jazeera. “It should be no surprise that solvents are also notoriously toxic to people, something the medical community has long known”.

The dispersants are known to be mutagenic, a disturbing fact that could be evidenced in the seafood deformities. Shrimp, for example, have a life-cycle short enough that two to three generations have existed since BP’s disaster began, giving the chemicals time to enter the genome.

Pathways of exposure to the dispersants are inhalation, ingestion, skin, and eye contact. Health impacts can include headaches, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pains, chest pains, respiratory system damage, skin sensitisation, hypertension, central nervous system depression, neurotoxic effects, cardiac arrhythmia and cardiovascular damage. They are also teratogenic – able to disturb the growth and development of an embryo or fetus – and carcinogenic.

Sick and dying marine mammals, fish and shellfish also mean lost livelihoods and sick people. It’s amazing to me that these stories are most often relegated to the environmental papers and websites when they concern everyone. As the Al Jazeera report points out, “Given that the Gulf of Mexico provides more than 40 per cent of all the seafood caught in the continental US, this phenomenon does not bode well for the region, or the country.”

The Deepwater Horizon was extreme, but a much smaller spill can still have terrible, long term consequences.

Ed Cake, a biological oceanographer, as well as a marine and oyster biologist, discusses his concerns in the Al Jazeera report. He addresses the long term effects of oil pollution: “It has been more than 33 years since the 1979 Ixtoc-1 oil disaster in Mexico’s Bay of Campeche, and the oysters, clams, and mangrove forests have still not recovered in their oiled habitats in seaside estuaries of the Yucatan Peninsula. It has been 23 years since the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil disaster in Alaska, and the herring fishery that failed in the wake of that disaster has still not returned”…”I will not be alive to see the Gulf of Mexico recover,” said Cake, who is 72 years old. “Without funding and serious commitment, these things will not come back to pre-April 2010 levels for decades.”

Decades. Think of that.

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