Does it bother anyone else that the 600,000 gallons of oil BP is sucking out of the broken wellhead each day is being burned at sea?
And why are they burning the oil rather than trying to capture, save and possibly sell it? Because it is the easiest and cheapest way to get rid of it.
The risks are obvious. The burning creates toxic gases including sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and volatile organic compounds like benzene, toluene, ethyl benzene and xylene, all now being added to the atmosphere, eventually to be blown inland. The long-term risks to man of all this poison being added to the atmosphere should be clear.
My friend, 66-year-old Wilma Subra – chemist and MacArthur grant genius from New Iberia, the region’s most articulate voice of protest against the physical harms of all the chemicals from the accident being added to the water and air – calls the burning horrific: “This is one of those decisions that will have negative impacts for a long time.”
For several weeks the company knew it was going to attempt to suction oil from the leak to waiting ships at the surface. I was under the now naïve assumption that they would have a conga line of tankers standing by to carry that oil to shore where it could be refined.
But no such effort is underway; instead the captured oil is being mixed with water, turned into a fine mist and “smokelessly” burned on-site. For the rest of my story go to takepart.com.
New Iberia, Louisiana — Traveling around southern Louisiana with Wilma Subra can be both enlightening and depressing. A chemist by training and environmental activist by choice, on every corner, at every railroad crossing, each empty lot and even in the air she sees – rightfully! – either a toxic wasteland or one on the verge. Better than anyone in the state she understands the long-term effects of putting chemicals into air and water.
During the past five-plus weeks her limits as both environmentalist and human have been tested on a variety of fronts. She’s appeared before dozens of community groups trying to explain the health risks of the spill, been interviewed by journalists from around the world, participated in high-level talks with government officials, all with the goal of trying to help them understand just how bad the ongoing spill is for both the environment and human health.
When I find her at home on a Sunday she is clearly happy to see an old friend, but exhausted from more than 35 long days and sleepless nights. Sixty-six years old, she was awarded a MacArthur Genius grant a decade ago for her work on community environmental fights.
“You never get used to this level of emergency. When you come home at night you can’t separate the science from the social impact on these communities.
“But you take it day to day. You get up in the morning and start again, no matter how many hours of sleep you get. Because so much of what I can do helps those communities … so I need to be there when they need me. And right now they desperately need me.”
For the rest of my conversation with Wilma, and a video clip, go to takepart.com/gulfoilspill.