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May-26-2010 19:45printcomments

Clean Water Now In The Gulf? I Don't Think So!

“Science is nothing but developed perception, interpreted intent, common sense rounded out and minutely articulated” - George Santayana
The crew of a Basler BT-67 fixed wing aircraft release oil dispersant over an oil discharge from the mobile offshore drilling unit, Deepwater Horizon, off the shore of Louisiana, in this May 5, 2010 photograph. Picture taken, May 5, 2010. REUTERS/Stephen Lehmann/U.S. Coast Guard/handout

(LAGUNA BEACH, Calif.) - It doesn’t feel good or make me righteous to say “I told you so” when the results in the Gulf oil catastrophe are so devastating. The predictive modeling and forecasts in recent technical updates are now beyond the dire warnings of those of us who gasped at it initially anyway. I’m no longer angry, that’s in my rear view mirror-----Just color me stunned.

This Frankenstein monster brought to you by the good doctors at BP will be running around and residually wrecking havoc for quite some time. It’ll exterminate fragile wetlands, estuaries and their inhabitants, regardless if the latest BP capping strategy works as I write today, May 26th at 6:00 p.m. PDST.

Unlike soothsayer Cassandra, who also prophesized correctly, many of us are common people who realized through basic biology early on that the mess BP created wasn’t going away soon. It’s only the tip of the polluted icebergs and Ponzi schemes we call natural energy resource extraction systems, 85% of the calamities below our collective radar screen surfaces until disasters happen that can’t be kept secret.

I’m guessing that BP engineers and other industry experts knew this site would still be puking gunk over 5 weeks later, but not those of us who wrote about it Week One. When I did my piece for this newsletter on April 29th, I thought to myself, it’ll spew for 2-3 weeks tops, might be over by the time my column was published. I’m a fool for believing that the enormity, the sheer embarrassment and deserved public panic would trigger better and more efficient, innovative emergency response by all.


The blame game, as I wrote a month ago, has de-evolved into the usual finger-pointing, the human error vs. technical/mechanical failure contretemps, yet that doesn’t roll back the clock nor put the shameful, barfing genie (the horrific ooze) back into the Earth.

The health problems predicted for those who are on the beaches and in the marshes trying to help are emerging and the fishermen with no other income source are being turned into low paid professional guinea pigs. As the science was already there, as physicians warned of the potential for inhalation and absorption could lead to emergency room visits, this only depresses me more[1].

Both the blowout and the ills of these crash test dummy, canary-in-the-coal-mine laypersons trying to mitigate and protect their coast were avoidable. Then again, the volunteers for the remediation had a choice, the wildlife have none and nowhere to temporarily relocate. These beautiful creatures and their ecosystems are dead, or dying, or ingesting/breathing/processing chemicals that will result in long-term physical abnormalities and reproductive sterility. At the mercy of a stupid species that in its arrogance believes that it deserves dominion over them. Classic Orwellian “doublethink.”

Now it appears that no one can decide who or what is going to clean up let alone pay for this projectile vomiting, this obscenely barfing gusher. Or should we leave it to the obviously incompetent, self-serving nincompoops at BP or the truncated, ineffectual political structure we call government? These creatures and plants are innocents, what did they do to deserve this but survive and evolve over the eons of time?

“This is the end…. beautiful friend, the end. Of our elaborate plans, the end. Of everything that stands, the end. No safety or surprise, the end.”
...The Doors...

Regardless of your religious or philosophical position, be you deist, theist, atheist or agnostic, hard science continues to debunk and note the specter of our darker, incredibly immense degradation aspect. We humans are the Death Star of the Sith Lords, possibly on our way to doing what George Lucas toyed with as fantasy: Planetary termination.

This is free will run amok.

There was a flurry of studies and updates released in the past month or so which add further weight to growing concerns by water quality activists that we won’t be getting “Clean Water Now,” maybe not even “Later.” Not in the Gulf’s oceanic region after BP’s oil fiasco, not in our nation or world’s drinking supplies, not in our lakes or streams, and nowhere on this globe are we immune or safe.  They say that only rats foul their own nests, actually quite comparable to our species, but our spoiling is one of choice not basic rodent, scavenger evolutionary processes.

Dispersant Application NOAA photo

Insult to injury, the widespread broadcasting (spreading) and Pollyanna virtues of “oil dispersants” were exaggerated to us from the start by the government, the culprits and the media[2].

More knowledgeable and well-connected eco-protection NGOs than I represent are becoming hopping mad, but I do understand their frustration and ire. Hang with me for a brief education and follow the bouncing gooey glob!

Law of Unintended Consequences raises its ugly head, albeit a brownish, oil-soaked one in this case:

"law of unintended consequences is an adage or idiom that warns that an intervention in a complex system invariably creates unanticipated and often undesirable outcomes. It is akin to Murphy’s Law, and is commonly used as a wry or humorous warning against the hubristic belief that humans can fully control the world around them."

Dispersants are generally surfactants (shortened from “surface active agents”) mixed with solvents, that is, they belong to a group of compounds that break down the barriers, the surface tension at a molecular level, between substances. Your laundry detergent’s success is an example of an effective surfactant, and it’s why dirt releases from your dampened clothes. The barriers are more readily broken in watery, saturated conditions[3].

Recently, after re-reading several of these prestigious studies on the environmental and health effects of surfactant chemicals (none accomplished by lunatic fringies but by reputable scientists) I’m now even less optimistic.

Contractor crews remove DeCon bags from the sands of the South
Pass of the Mississippi River. Photo courtesy: BP

Yesterday, I read them in one nauseous sitting, not in an attempt to test my stamina or stomach, but to refresh and to recalibrate my thoughts. There is unfortunately nothing good or optimistic that I can see in the immediate eco-future for the Gulf of Mexico states.

The recipes, the complicated algorithms or formulas for the abatement and cleanup have already hit their wobbly little heads against aspects of “complexity theory,” that is the problems have become exponentially more difficult to solve because of the cleanup resources and massive coordinated logistics necessitated. As Bugs Bunny uttered in exasperation about dopes, these savvy industry people should have known this and are “maroons.”

When mixed with treated water like that used as a dilution medium for the concentrated dispersants in the Gulf, regardless if chlorine or chloramine was used for treatment, even basic surfactant-laden household cleansers like Dawn detergent can become carcinogenic-inducing products or help other chemicals to do so. Here the irony is NOT funny: Dawn in fact has been the “go-to” and widely publicized cleaning agent for wildlife, got high marks after the Exxon-Valdez incident and subsequently.<

Amazingly, in the studies, Cheer laundry detergent and Pantene shampoo, did not form or trigger what are known as nitrosamines. Meanwhile, as lab scientists try to understand those magical ingredients and why one household product is dangerous and another is not, experimenting with both the actual leak and with Mother Nature goes on in the Gulf ecosystems. Capping it today will not reverse what mischief has already been set loose in the form of these surfactants (dispersants) as they mix, as the new chemical compositions cascade throughout the Gulf’s very complex ecosystems.

I’m not singling out Dawn to condemn them individually but to educate.  One study claimed that the Dawn was 26 times more likely than Suave to form these nitrosamines, listed by USEPA as probable carcinogens. (4)

Hopefully, readers and others across our nation are beginning to comprehend the consequences of using surfactants, either as elements of oil dispersants or as personal hygiene products. This is why the research studies and grants about Contaminants of Emerging Concern (CEC) is a growth industry.

In the Gulf, they are in fact spreading the mess over an even wider area, both horizontally and vertically in the water. Bottom dwellers are hopelessly trapped as the chemical cocktails settle. The newly formed compounds being created are as insidious, as biologically stressful and life-threatening or worse to aquatics, amphibians and birds as the fully concentrated oil is. Via bio-magnification, they find their way eventually into the entire food chain, insuring that future harvests will be contaminated even if population numbers rebound and the oil appears to have dissipated or disappeared.

The side effects could be much worse than the medicine, thus the Law of Unintended Consequences. Recently, diving teams in the Gulf have noted that instead of big cloudy, floating groupings or clusters, they are seeing bubbly, almost champagne-like globules, the oily residues ubiquitous throughout the water column, top to bottom. How's that for spreading the wealth? This lends credence to ecologist’s contentions that this catastrophe is actually growing, albeit the startling visual impacts seemingly quelled or attenuated.

Is this then the final clarion curtain call, the end of oil and coal and other planet-polluting energy source industries? Or is it just the last hurrah, basically “Taps” and lights out, capitulation that it’s too late baby, time to turn that dominion deal over, that is our SS Mother Earth, to some other species? Truly we are both “pinnacle predators” AND “pinnacle pitifuls.”  Our rapacious foraging and destruction may converge to extirpate an entire planet.

POSTSCRIPT: Unfortunately, these surfactants, nitrosamines plus other contaminating, cancer-inducing, inorganic substances and pharmaceuticals are now on the rise in our nation’s potable and agricultural recycled water supplies. I’ll hold off informing readers about that in detail and will address it in another article. In a sense, in our own bathrooms and kitchens we’ve become happy canaries for our chemical and petroleum corporate conglomerates. And we pay them for the pleasure, is this a great country or what?


[1] Recommendations on Responses to Spill Exposures from a Medical Specialist -

[2] Oil dispersants an environmental ‘crapshoot’ -

[3] Wikipedia page on Surfactants

[4] Shampoo, Cosmetics May Form Cancer-Causing Substance in Water Supplies - National Geographic

EPA girds for a fight with BP over dispersants in Gulf oil spill - The Christian Science Monitor

Gulf seafood deformities alarm scientists - Al Jazeera

FYI: If a project near you has some interesting enviro-aspect(s) that you think is/are worthy of coverage and our readers attention, feel free to contact me with a very brief synopsis. Water-related “Blue Interventions” are my specialty!


Launched in 2010, Odd Man Out is the creation of Roger von Bütow and his OMO columns are written exclusively for Salem-News-com. Born and raised in the LA Harbor area, son of a German immigrant father, he's been in Orange County for 45 years and is a 38-year resident of Laguna Beach, Ca. In 1998, he began his professional career in environmental review processes (CEQA, NEPA, MND, MND and EIR/EIS). He's a rare mix of cross-trained builder, writer and consultant as he brings his extensive construction experiences dating back to 1972 into his eco-endeavors. He has tremendous field and technical expertise in successful watershed restorations, plus wastewater, urban runoff, water quality monitoring/improvements and hydrologic mechanisms. He's built everything from commercial spas to award-winning private residences, and provided peer review and consultant analyses for single homes, subdivisions and upscale resorts.

View articles written by Roger Butow Read Roger's full biography on the Staff Page

His resumé is extensive, try an online GOOGLE search of his personal journey and historical accomplishments. His consultation fees are reasonable and if you've got a major project that alarms you, that needs creative intervention, then he's your man. His credentials and "CV" can be provided upon request.

Contact him at his office: (949) 715.1912 or drop him an email:

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Roger von Bütow May 30, 2010 1:31 pm (Pacific time)

Does British Petroleum say to themselves "Keep a stiff upper oilslick" in the morning? What the top BP guys and dolls should do is commit ritualistic public suicide on the corporate HQ steps live on global TV----And join the near-tidal critters and plants they wiped out. These people redefine inept! They're "Dilutional," they actually used the worst, the lowest-rated and most dreaded (by marine biologists) oil dispersant imaginable. They want it to appear as if cosmetically, visually, a cleanup occurred. What they did was disperse it alright----spread it around, making millions of gallons of toxic soup. On the surface, there's a chance of recovery, but when it's everywhere how do you truly remediate? You don't. USEPA should have stopped them from using it (COREXIT) from the get go but didn't. COREXIT is the most poorly rated, the most toxic dispersant on their list and BP should have specifically been banned from using it.

Jane May 27, 2010 12:26 pm (Pacific time)

This catastrophe will change the world, permanently. There is no fixing this mess.

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