US oil spill no Chernobyl, but still toxic: biologist

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The Independent Online

The huge oil spill inching closer to shore in the Gulf of Mexico is no Chernobyl disaster but will have a huge impact on the key fishing industry, a marine biologist said here.

A ruptured well from the sunken Deepwater Horizon offshore drilling platform has spewed out more than three million barrels of crude so far, encroaching on prized southern US coast wetlands and wildlife preserves, as well as billion-dollar fishing and tourism destinations.

"There will be no Chernobyl in the Mississippi Delta," Gulf Coast Research Laboratory marine biologist Joe Griffitt told AFP Friday, referring to the 1986 nuclear disaster in Ukraine that killed at least 4,000 people and contaminated over two million.

"But my concern is that the oil - which is a toxic substance - could have a very negative impact on shrimps, fish, oysters and crabs in the Delta. The development of the young, the juveniles - if exposed to oil - could be very strongly impacted."

Swamps and marshes in the Mississippi Delta provide 40 percent of US seafood production.

"One way or the other there will be consequences," Griffitt warned, noting that fish die in a high concentration of oil, such as at the rate of one part of oil for 10,000 parts of water.

Even when there is a lower concentration of toxic products, organs can be damaged.

"If you take a fish, and oil - too much oil - finds its way into his organism, the liver is not able to detoxify the oil anymore," the biologist said. "The same goes for other organs like the brain and the gonads. The development of the young can also be damaged, and that's my main concern."

He noted that dispersants like Corexit used to halt the spread of the oil were also nefarious to sealife.

"Those products don't make the oil go away," Griffitt said. "It just falls to the sea bottom. That's where you'll find the sediments and the larvae. So the toxic effect is double."

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