Does the use of such chemical methods in turn adversely affect the environment?

There has not been comprehensive research to show that these chemical methods adversely affect the environment, but rather individual focus studies specific to country and marine environment have been conducted, thus no general conclusion can be made about these chemical methods.

Also, in general, not much research has been done on the use of chemical methods on oil spills, because it is taken for granted that the chemicals would at least be a better option than letting the oil remain in the sea, as well as because there are few alternatives.

However, we do have some research on how dispersants in fact do more harm than good, negatively impacting coral reefs far more than the oil itself.

In 2006, some 13,000 metric tons of oil were accidentally spilt from tankers and similar vessels, compared with the 37,000 metric tons spilt from the Exxon Valdez disaster in 1989. When spills happen near tropical coral reefs or shorelines, government authorities commonly use detergents to disperse the oil into smaller and supposedly less harmful droplets, much as soap helps break stains down.

To determine their effect on individual corals, scientists from Israel’s National Institute of Oceanography in Haifa exposed small branch clippings, otherwise known as “nubbins,” of two species — Stylophora pistillata and Pocillopora damicornis, both found in the Red Sea — to solutions of 6 different dispersants for a period of 24 hours and monitored their health for the ensuing week.

The detergents and the dispersed oil droplets all proved significantly more toxic to the coral than the crude oil itself. In all cases, a large majority of the coral nubbins died after being exposed to the mixtures of dispersants and oil, with dispersants alone causing up to two-thirds of the observed deaths. The rest of the coral nubbins had stunted growth rates, even at doses recommended by dispersant manufacturers. Oil alone, on the other hand, did not result in any abnormal mortality.

Oil can kill corals by directly enveloping and suffocating them. Toxins in the oil can also dissolve in water and poison corals. Although the detergents help break up oil slicks and prevent them from smothering coral, the increased surface area the smaller droplets present “means that more toxic components of the oil can come out,” and the droplets of oil get pulled deeper underwater, coming in direct contact with the corals, explained marine biologist Baruch Rinkevich at the Israel Oceanographic and Limnological Research, one of the lead researchers on the study.

Rinkevich and his colleagues recommended banning these detergents from anywhere near coral reefs and to only use them in emergencies, when oil slicks are shore-bound.

Yet, there are other considerations that make it impossible to completely eliminate the use of chemical oil-spill cleaners.

Oil spills that are not dispersed can kill birds and other wildlife.

Amy Merten, an environmental scientist at the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), said the study gives information on a worst-case scenario that should be considered in trade-off decisions. This includes choosing whether to disperse oil into the water and risk harming coral versus getting the oil slick off the surface of the water “so birds, mangroves, and nesting turtles aren’t as affected,” she said.

There are also largely limited alternatives to consider for the removal of oil spills.

“Essentially, there are mechanical methods [such as skimmers], in-situ burning or dispersants,” Merten explained. “Generally, in open water, there is a very short window for using any method since the slick will spread and move with the wind and currents. Dispersants will continue to be considered as an option. After the oil spills, no one wins. Our job is to try to minimize further impacts, and there may be times when dispersants help us do that for a portion of the spill.”

Suggestions made by other scientists, would be to continue the use of dispersants, while being careful to use them on areas that are not directly above coral reefs to minimize the impact of dispersants and other chemical methods, while conservation efforts for coral reefs can continue to take place while a safer chemical method is being found.

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2 Responses to “Effect of Cleaning Agents on Environment”


  1. Its like you read my mind! You seem to know so much about this, like you wrote the book in it or something. I think that you could do with some pics to drive the message home a little bit, but instead of that, this is great blog. A great read. I’ll definitely be back.

  2. The Bowo's Says:

    Thanx girl. Keep it up


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