Oil spill raise arsenic levels in ocean: study (2)

09:57, July 04, 2010      

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The scientists say their work demonstrates how the chemistry of sediments in the Gulf of Mexico may be affected by the current oil leak.

Arsenic is a poisonous chemical element found in minerals and it is present in oil. High levels of arsenic in seawater can enable the toxin to enter the food chain. It can disrupt the photosynthesis process in marine plants and increase the chances of genetic alterations that can cause birth defects and behavioral changes in aquatic life. It can also kill animals such as birds that feed on sea creatures affected by arsenic.

Arsenic occurs naturally in the ocean, but sediments on the sea floor filter it out of seawater, which keeps the levels of naturally occurring arsenic low. However, arsenic is also flushed into the ocean in wastewater from oil rigs and from accidental oil spills and leakages from underground oil reservoirs.

"We can't accurately measure how much arsenic is in the Gulf at the moment because the spill is ongoing," said Professor Mark Sephton, from the Department of Earth Science and Engineering at Imperial College London. "However, the real danger lies in arsenic ' s ability to accumulate, which means that each subsequent spill raises the levels of this pollutant in seawater." "Our study is a timely reminder that oil spills could create a toxic ticking time bomb, which could threaten the fabric of the marine ecosystem in the future," said Sephton.

<i>Source: Xinhua </i>
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(Editor:燕勐)

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