Researchers Study ‘Hidden’ Pollutants in Gulf of Mexico from BP Oil Spill

Most toxic compounds aren’t monitored by EPA

Scientists have been studying the effects of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on the Gulf of Mexico for years, but research by University of Central Florida professors – and a $1.5 million grant that funds their work – could shed new light on undetected pollution lurking beneath the seafloor.

(From EurekAlert! / University of Central Florida) — The catastrophic blowout of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig in 2010 caused the largest oil spill in U.S. history, releasing an estimated 206 million gallons of crude oil into the gulf before it was capped 87 days later.

While visible evidence of the spill is largely gone, evidence of toxic compounds carried in the oil lingers. Some of those chemicals, known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), are classified as hazardous because they can cause genetic mutations and cancer in organisms that come into contact with them.

There are hundreds of PAHs present in the environment, but the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency tracks only 16 of them, the ones the agency lists as “priority pollutants.” UCF chemistry professor Andres Campiglia says that many of the PAHs not included in the EPA list are actually more toxic than the ones being tracked.

“It is possible that many of those pollutants still remain in the gulf, and the true picture of the spill’s environmental impact and effect on the ecosystem – and human health – is unknown,” Campiglia said.

So why are those potentially more dangerous PAHs not routinely monitored in the environment? According to Campiglia, one of the main reasons is the lack of reliable analytical methods.

Campiglia, thanks to research he began a decade ago, now has the ability to do what other researchers couldn’t: detect these “forgotten PAHs.” The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative recently awarded Campiglia a $1.5 million grant to track down the environmental fate of those PAHs.

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