Oil Dispersant Safety Questions Won't Go Away

There are lingering questions about the safety of using so much chemical dispersant to break up the oil in the Gulf even as life on some beaches is getting back to normal, reports CBS News correspondent Don Teague.

In Pensacola, Fla., there are crowded beaches for the first time in months, welcome news for business owners who say the worst of the oil spill depression may have passed.

"I think we have more tourists. There are a lot of people from out of town being here," said a woman on the beach.

Special Section: Disaster in the Gulf

The reality for most Gulf beaches is that oil from the BP blowout hasn't reached shore and probably won't. The massive effort to skim, burn and break down the oil with chemical dispersants is proving effective.

"Oil - particularly fresh oil - globs to itself and dispersants are soap. They break the oil into tiny little droplets and allow the bacteria to degrade it," said Ed Overton, professor emeritus of environmental science at Louisiana State University.

Still, there are serious concerns about the possible toxic effects of "Corexit," the primary dispersant used by BP. A Congressional subcommittee says documents show Coast Guard officials allowed BP to use much more dispersant than previously reported despite an order from the EPA to use it rarely.

"There has been an unprecedented underwater scientific experiment going on for months," said Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), "where toxic chemicals have been shot into toxic oil."

BP officials say the company did cut back on dispersant use after the government order and has worked closely with federal agencies since.

"We've had a formal process with the unified command on the use of dispersant since the very beginning and that was based on a set of protocols that were agreed," said BP COO Doug Suttles.

In hard-hit Louisiana where oil is still coming ashore and beaches are barricaded against even more, fishing guide Danny Ray worries about the long term effect the dispersants will have on marine life and ultimately his livelihood.

"That's one of my biggest concerns, everything that's happened here on the bottom. Only time will tell," said Ray.

There are reports Sunday night that there is a new wave of oil is coming ashore on the beaches at Grand Isle, La. Everyone there will be watching the static kill procedure on Tuesday and hoping it finally kills the well for good.
  • Don Teague

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