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Re-creating the ocean, Temple prof. developing protocols for using oil dispersants

How do you bottle an oceanwave? Temple University civil and environmental engineering assistant professor Dr. Michel C. Boufadel is re-creating the energy of the ocean in his laboratory in an effort to develop new testing guidelines for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that will determine the how effective dispersants are in fighting oil spills in certain sea environments.

We know that oil spills constitute major environmental problems and that once you have a spill at sea, you want to consider ways to deal with it, says Boufadel, whose expertise is in oil remediation.

Boufadel says a spill at sea can be cleaned up by skimming, burning or adding dispersants--which are like detergents--to the oil. But, he warns, the environment in which the spill has occurred must be taken into account before a method is chosen.

What is the seas state? Is it violent or calm? asks Boufadel. If you have a lot of waves, then skimming or burning the oil is not an option. And in most cases, when you do have a spill, it occurs when a tanker has run aground during a storm.

In addition, he adds, after a certain period of time, the oil absorbs water through emulsion, making the oil very difficult to burn. Boufadel says that the other option, adding dispersants, helps break the oil into small droplets, which can then be consumed by marine organisms because the oil is organic matter.

But, like detergent in a washing machine, dispersants need agitation in order to work properly, which means you need waves in order to apply them to oil spills, says Boufadel.

What the EPA is interested in is developing a new protocol to test the effectiveness of dispersants, he says. The one currently adopted by the EPA, essentially, consists of putting the oil in a smooth flask that contains water, applying dispersants on the surface, and then shaking the flask on an orbital shaker.

For example, maybe a certain dispersant works well if the sea is not high
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Contact: Preston M. Moretz
pmoretz@temple.edu
215-204-7476
Temple University
13-May-2002


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