“Current dispersants are the lesser of two evils,” explained chemist Lisa Kemp in a press briefing. Today’s toxic dispersant potions can affect life forms that comes into contact with the surface of the oil, and when the clumps of oil and dispersant move around in the water, the dispersants can wreak havoc on the sea floor.
During the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010, nearly two million gallons of chemical dispersants were sprayed into the Gulf in an effort to break up the oil slick. Cleanup workers and local residents complained of adverse health effects that they blamed on the dispersants, and a study last month showed that a chemical in the dispersants harmed microorganism populations that are a key link in the marine food chain, with negative implications for fish and larger sea animals.
The new dispersant uses food-safe ingredients instead of petroleum products. It’s based on lecithin, an ingredient used in non-stick cooking sprays and cellulose (a compound derived from plants’ cell walls that can give ice cream and smoothies a thicker texture). The dispersant also binds to oil, allowing it to it roll off any substance. “Our dispersant provides non-stick behavior,” said Kemp. “Animal, bird, sand--the oil just rinses off with more seawater.”