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Can We Wash Away an Oil Spill?

Can We Wash Away an Oil Spill?

Credit: Marine Photo Bank
Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/19378856@N04/2037098785/
License: CC BY-NC 3.0

Oil spills can be devastating. The oil kills marine animals and damages coastal ecosystems. People’s livelihoods are lost when tourists stay away and fisheries are closed. Stopping oil spills is great for the environment and for people.

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Chemicals can be used to disperse the oil after a spill. Chemical dispersants are polymers, molecules that are linked in a long chain. When sprayed on an oil spill, these chemicals break up the oil. Without big globs of oil in the water, animals do not become coated and beaches stay cleaner. But there may be damage that people do not see. Many people think that the dispersants may be toxic. The damage they cause may not be visible right away, like harmful mutations in the organism’s genetic makeup. Some people think that the chemicals may even cause more damage than they prevent. So scientists are trying to create non-toxic chemical dispersants. See how they do it.

Credit: Technical Sergeant Adrian Cadiz
Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:C-130_support_oil_spill_cleanup.jpg
License: CC BY-NC 3.0

Air Force dropping oil-dispersing chemicals into the GUlf of Mexico (2010) -Deepwater Horizon Response effort [Figure2]

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Use the links below to learn more about how scientists develop non-toxic chemical dispersants. Then answer the following questions.

  1. What does a chemical dispersant do to oil?
  2. How does a polymer work on oil in water?
  3. What materials are used to develop a non-toxic chemical dispersant? How do scientists know that a substance is non-toxic?
  4. How are scientists testing whether the new dispersants work?
  5. What happens to the oil in the test?

Image Attributions

  1. [1]^ Credit: Marine Photo Bank; Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/19378856@N04/2037098785/; License: CC BY-NC 3.0
  2. [2]^ Credit: Technical Sergeant Adrian Cadiz; Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:C-130_support_oil_spill_cleanup.jpg; License: CC BY-NC 3.0

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