BP Disaster Oil still washing on shore

WSJ

The oil that has washed onto nearby beaches in recent days is Louisiana sweet crude, which rules out refineries or tankers carrying foreign oil as culprits but leaves the spill’s precise origins very much a mystery, U.S. officials said Tuesday.

“This is definitely crude from the Gulf of Mexico,” said Capt. Jonathan Burton, who is based here and heads the U.S. Coast Guard’s response to the spill.

The crude began washing up on stretches of Louisiana’s shoreline late Saturday and continued to foul beaches through Monday, including on Elmer’s Island, a state wildlife refuge. The Coast Guard said that crude has accumulated on stretches amounting to about a half-mile. The locations of those landings dot about 30 miles of coastline in an area that was among the hardest hit during the spill unleashed by the explosion last year of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, which was drilling a deep-water oil and gas well for BP PLC.

Mr. Burton told a press conference the oil appears to have hit the water fairly recently and there is “nothing to suggest” the oil came from BP’s spill last year.

Capt. Edwin Stanton, the head of the Coast Guard’s operations in New Orleans, said in a telephone interview that if the oil had come from the Deepwater Horizon, “we would expect it to be much more weathered.”

In an effort to pinpoint the source—and thus figure out who to send the clean-up bill—the Coast Guard has sent samples of the oil for analysis, and it should have results later this week.

Scientists will compare the chemical properties of the crude with samples collected from known spills, including an hours-long leak at a hurricane-damaged platform reported Saturday by closely-held Anglo-Suisse Offshore Partners LLC, Mr. Burton said.

“This is not a large incident in terms of product, but it is spread over a large area,” Mr. Burton said.

Mr. Burton said that there have been no reported landfalls on Tuesday, though the vast amount of freshwater that courses out of the Mississippi River and its tributaries at this time of year may be pushing some oil away from the shore and the hard-to-clean and ecologically sensitive coastal marshes.

A patchy sheen covers the Gulf’s surface along some 30 miles of shoreline, reaching about five miles offshore, Mr. Burton said. The thin film will likely evaporate before it can accumulate at surf’s edge or be cleaned up, he said.

Mr. Burton could offer no estimates of the volume of oil that clean-up crews are facing, as they remove the oil by hand from local beaches. But the Coast Guard and various Louisiana agencies have launched a wide-ranging spill response.

“We’re extremely engaged and taking this as seriously as any other oil spill,” said Karolien Debusschere, with the Louisiana Oil Spill Coordinator’s Office.

Coast Guard Rear Adm. Mary Landry said during a Tuesday morning speech here to federal offshore regulators that the amount of what she indicated was oil was “nowhere near the volume of Deepwater Horizon but still significant enough.”

The incident comes at a time when the oil and gas industry is trying to convince regulators, politicians and the public that it can avoid a repeat of the Deepwater Horizon disaster, which was the largest offshore oil spill in U.S. history, and should be allowed to resume drilling in the Gulf of Mexico’s deep waters.

Only four deep-water drilling permits and one exploration plan have been issued by U.S. regulators since the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded and sank, and each of those have come in recent weeks after oil companies were able to comply with more stringent safety guidelines and show that they could contain and clean up any spill.

Airport Scanners Waves Tear Apart DNA

by Terrence Aym

While the application of scientific knowledge creates technology, sometimes the technology is later redefined by science. Such is the case with terahertz (THz) radiation, the energy waves that drive the technology of the TSA: back scatter airport scanners.

Emerging THz technological applications

THz waves are found between microwaves and infrared on the electromagnetic spectrum. This type of radiation was chosen for security devices because it can penetrate matter such as clothing, wood, paper and other porous material that’s non-conducting.

This type of radiation seems less threatening because it doesn’t penetrate deeply into the body and is believed to be harmless to both people and animals.

THz waves may have applications beyond security devices. Research has been done to determine the feasibility of using the radiation to detect tumors underneath the skin and for analyzing the chemical properties of various materials and compounds. The potential marketplace for THz driven technological applications may generate many billions of dollars in revenue.

Because of the potential profits, intense research on THz waves and applications has mushroomed over the last decade.

Health risks

The past several years the possible health risks from cumulative exposure to THz waves was mostly dismissed. Experts pointed to THz photons and explained that they are not strong enough to ionize atoms or molecules; nor are they able to break the chains of chemical bonds. They assert—and it is true—that while higher energy photons like ultraviolet rays and X-rays are harmful, the lower energy ones like terahertz waves are basically harmless. [Softpedia.com]

While that is true, there are other biophysics at work. Some studies have shown that THZ can cause great genetic harm, while other similar studies have shown no such evidence of deleterious affects.

Boian Alexandrov at the Center for Nonlinear Studies at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico recently published an abstract with colleagues, “DNA Breathing Dynamics in the Presence of a Terahertz Field” that reveals very disturbing—even shocking—evidence that the THz waves generated by TSA scanners is significantly damaging the DNA of the people being directed through the machines, and the TSA workers that are in close proximity to the scanners throughout their workday.

From the abstracts own synopsis:

“We consider the influence of a terahertz field on the breathing dynamics of double-stranded DNA. We model the spontaneous formation of spatially localized openings of a damped and driven DNA chain, and find that linear instabilities lead to dynamic dimerization, while true local strand separations require a threshold amplitude mechanism. Based on our results we argue that a specific terahertz radiation exposure may significantly affect the natural dynamics of DNA, and thereby influence intricate molecular processes involved in gene expression and DNA replication.”

In layman’s terms what Alexandrov and his team discovered is that the resonant effects of the THz waves bombarding humans unzips the double-stranded DNA molecule. This ripping apart of the twisted chain of DNA creates bubbles between the genes that can interfere with the processes of life itself: normal DNA replication and critical gene expression.

Other studies have not discovered this deadly effect on the DNA because the research only investigated ordinary resonant effects.

Nonlinear resonance, however, is capable of such damage and this sheds light on the genotoxic effects inherent in the utilization of THz waves upon living tissue. The team emphasizes in their abstract that the effects are probabilistic rather than deterministic.

Unfortunately, DNA damage is not limited only to THz wave exposure. Other research has been done that reveals lower frequency microwaves used by cell phones and Wi-Fi cause some harm to DNA over time as well. [“Single- and double-strand DNA breaks in rat brain cells after acute exposure to radiofrequency electromagnetic radiation.“]