On September 1, National Geographic published a report, 'Could pollutants from the BP oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico end up as far north as New England?'
National Geographic followed Siddhartha Mitra, a geochemist from East Carolina University, on a National Science Foundation-funded trip to the Gulf where he took samples in Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi and then North Carolina.
"What they’re looking for are hydrocarbons associated with the oil. They break away from oil into the air during evaporation, or burning, and also break away in the water, both naturally, and with dispersants applied to break up the oil... If the dispersant chemicals are mixed in, they could also be carried inland by rainfall and wind currents. If the material is toxic, there could be toxic effects," the report noted.
Statements by Mitra:
- No one’s really thought about the effect of material coming over from the ocean, marine areas onto land.
- Any type of carbon molecules, carbon containing chemicals, that are in the surface slick or surface areas of the Gulf of Mexico would be picked up by hurricanes and storms and then that material could also be dropped by precipitation on land further upland, away from the coast.
- Oil and water don’t mix, in general. But many of the compounds that are in oil, start dissolving very readily. Those are the hydrocarbons, many of which are toxic at low concentrations.
- The people who are living in upland areas, thinking to themselves I don’t need to be concerned as much about the health effects of the oil spill, because I don’t live near the coast, and if you actually have rain that has some of these hydrocarbons in it, it's not going to be raining oil as you think of it but it may very well be raining hydrocarbons which are coming from that oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico.
NOTE: The original National Geographic report contains several misquotes of Mitra -- most of the errors downplay his comments, while none overstate them. However, National Geographic should be commended for even publishing the information. Thank you, NatGeo.