Ask CBS News: How Long Will Oil Hurt Gulf?

In our ongoing "Ask CBS News" segment, we've answered your questions about the Gulf oil spill. Viewers can leave questions on "CBS Evening News" Anchor Katie Couric's Twitter page or the CBS News Facebook page.

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Special Section: Disaster in the Gulf

Tonight we answered another one of your questions.

A viewer asked: "How long will what's left of the spill affect the environment?"

Couric answered that even though the blown-out wellhead has been plugged for two days, there's still a lot of oil in the Gulf. In that 87-day window as much as 200 million gallons could have gushed from that well. Now that it's capped, nearly 600 skimmers will continue to collect the oil in the water and control burns are still taking place. This week, Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen told Couric the cleanup will continue until the fall, but many experts say it will take far longer than that. When the Ixtoc Mexican oil well spill occurred in 1979, 138 million gallons of oil flowed into the Gulf. Within two to three years, biologists said the ecosystem was back to normal but, unlike this spill, that one didn't get into wetlands and marshes, which are much harder to clean. The real answer is no one really knows. In fact, one environmental toxicologist told Couric it could take decades.

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  • Katie Couric

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