June 11, 2010
Researchers have confirmed that two large plumes in the Gulf of Mexico consist, as suspected, of dissolved hydrocarbons. Early analyses of samples from recent cruises have found hydrocarbons up to 78 kilometers from the leaking well, as well as encouraging signs that microbes are already degrading components of the oil. Although Jane Lubchenco, head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), describes the concentrations as "very low," she and other researchers caution that there still may be ecological impacts.
Toxicologists echo that concern. "We're glad [the concentrations] are not higher, but it's just a snapshot of an unfolding event," says Ronald Kendall, an ecotoxicologist at Texas Tech University in Lubbock. He points out that organisms are likely to experience a "soup of exposure" that likely also contains many other chemicals, including sulfur, metals, and dispersants.