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Cleaning up oil spills - Research Paper Example

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This dilemma is currently addressed by activities and efforts to clean up the oil spills with the participation of the government and even private entities and…
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Cleaning up oil spills
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Richard Gunawardane CHEM 100–002 02 April Cleaning up Oil Spills Oil spills have caused major problems in the environment, especially in the flora and fauna of our bodies of water. This dilemma is currently addressed by activities and efforts to clean up the oil spills with the participation of the government and even private entities and environmentalists. However, to fully comprehend how the cleaning up process of oil spill works, it is necessary to understand the chemistry behind mitigation of oil spills.
There are several ways in controlling and cleaning up oil spills. These methods are usually combinations of chemical, biological and mechanical means. The most famous method is to use chemical treating agents like dispersants, surface washing agents, and bioremediation agents (“Chemical Treating Agents” par. 1). Dispersants are basically mixture of chemicals, made up mostly of surfactants and other additives. The surfactant molecules are amphiphilic in nature which can be both soluble in protic (i.e. water) and aprotic (i.e. oil) solvents. During oil spills in bodies of water, surfactants combined into aggregates called micelles which consist of hydrophilic head and hydrophobic tails. The heads are attached to the water molecules by hydrogen bonding and the tails to the oil molecules which lessens the interfacial tensions between oil-water molecules. Due to the mechanical action in the ocean, the oil molecules especially below the surface of the water break apart into smaller molecules which can stay suspended to be washed by current (Renee and Lee par. 5).
The use of surface washing agents or commonly known as degreaser are usually used for surfaces or structures that have been oiled and are usually sprayed on the surface. This chemical promotes emulsification of oil and the instability causes it to flocculate and coalesce in the surface for physical recovery.
The actions of the two mentioned chemical agents are usually followed either by natural means or induced biological actions. The natural means can include microbial degradation and photo-oxidation. The latter method proceeds under sunlight where the natural targets are the polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) of the oils. The process (also known as photolysis), degrades the PAHs in the form that can be available for microbial degradation (The American Academy of Microbiology 4).
In addition, bioremediation is also an effective way to clean up oil spills. The use of bioremediation agents includes microbiological cultures, enzyme additives or nutrient additives which can significantly increase the rate biodegradation (“Chemical Treating Agents” par. 4). Bioremediation agents are usually used after mechanical/physical clean-up for refinement of the process.
Works Cited
“Oil spill chemical treating agents.” Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Environment. 8 Nov. 2011. Web. 1 Apr. 2012.
Schoof, Renee and Anita Lee. “Researchers worry about oil dispersants impact, too”. McClatchy Newspapers 2010. Web. 1 Apr. 2012.
The American Academy of Microbiology. Microbes and Oil Spills. American Society for Microbiology. 2011. Web. 1 Apr. 2012. Read More
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