Dispersants Improved Air Quality for Responders at Deep Water Horizon

WOODS HOLE –A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences adds a new dimension to the controversial decision to inject large amounts of chemical dispersants immediately above the crippled oil well at the seafloor during the Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010.

The research team included Christopher Reddy with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

The dispersants likely reduced the amount of harmful gases in the air at the sea surface—diminishing health risks for emergency responders and allowing them to keep working to stop the uncontrolled spill and clean up the spilled oil sooner.

In the midst of the Deepwater Horizon crisis, officials made the unprecedented and controversial decision to inject more than 700,000 gallons of chemical dispersant over 67 days immediately above the oil rig’s severed wellhead at the bottom of the ocean.

The objective was to break up petroleum that surged uncontrollably from the wellhead into smaller droplets in the deep sea, with the goals of diminishing oil slicks and reducing the amount of harmful gases arriving at the ocean surface.

To this debate, the new study demonstrates a beneficial effect of dispersants: The subsea dispersant injection likely allowed emergency responders literally to breathe easier.

By breaking up petroleum into smaller droplets that dissolved faster in the deep ocean, the dispersants decreased the amounts of volatile toxic compounds that rose to the surface and outgassed into the air.

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