Toxic oil levels found in key Gulf breeding zone, scientists say

Wednesday, August 18, 2010
By Paul Martin

By Sara Kennedy

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Scientists have found evidence that oil has become toxic to marine organisms in a section of the Gulf of Mexico that supports the spawning grounds of commercially important fish species.

Researchers from the University of South Florida said Tuesday that, in preliminary results, oil appears to reside in droplet form among the sediments of a vital underwater canyon where clouds of oil from the BP spill were found.

“So, indeed, the waters have a level of toxicity that needs to be recognized, and I think these were some of the first indicators that the base of the food web — the bacteria and the phytoplankton — may be affected,” said David Hollander, chief scientist on a research vessel that just returned from a 10-day trip in the Gulf.

More than 200 million gallons of oil leaked into Gulf waters from BP’s Deepwater Horizon well until it was capped last month. The oil company also used millions of gallons of chemical dispersant to break up the oil as it gushed from the runaway well off the Louisiana coast.

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