Interview on CNN 7/9/2010 (July 9) - @ 1440h CT
Rick Sanchez, CNN anchor interviews Susan Sanchez, marine toxicoligist:
SANCHEZ: Throughout this newscast here at RICK'S LIST we've done something unprecedented. We have been able to take you under water to do the very first live reports in the muck of the Gulf of Mexico, where the oil and the dispersant has combined to create a turbine effect. And this is the first time we've been able to actually experience this for you and file the reports as we were doing it.
But interestingly enough, someone I've been following now for the better part of a month is Susan Shaw. Susan Shaw is a marine toxicologist who you're about to hear from. She dove into the oily Gulf waters to see for herself what was going on under water. She was the first to do so.
And I read her columns, and I've been trying to get a hold of her. And every time we called her she was some place like Tokyo or Hong Kong or something, and we couldn't get a hold of her. So, finally, we got her, and what a perfect day to talk to her.
Because, Susan, I don't know if you know this, but we've had Philippe Cousteau and some of our people under water today showing us these murky waters that they say would normally be clear, but now they're not.
First of all, thank you for being with us.
Your impression of what is happening in the Gulf of Mexico, beneath the surface?
SUSAN SHAW, MARINE TOXICOLOGIST: Well, when you go into the water, you realize quickly what's going on. The oil from the surface is breaking up into smaller pieces, globules, and this is a dispersed oil that contains the COREXIT. So it's a combination of COREXIT and oil. And I think what people don't realize is how toxic that dispersed oil really is.
The COREXIT contains solvents, petroleum solvents. The oil contains hydrocarbons. And the combination is lethal to many, many organisms under the water. But when I was there, I could see. It looks exactly like plankton.
Plankton gets all mixed up in it, and it kills plankton right away. But all the fish and animals that eat plankton, like the small fish, they're going after this dispersed oil and taking that in. So that's another layer where you have an immediate lethal effect on part of the food (INAUDIBLE). And that's what we've been concerned about all along.
SANCHEZ: So that's interesting. I hadn't heard that before. What you just explained to the viewers is that the animals that generally eat plankton, sometimes large animals -- whale sharks eat plankton, interestingly enough, or take it in.
SHAW: Whale sharks. Right.
SANCHEZ: Yes. And they -- because it looks like plankton, they're eating it, but actually what they're eating is a combination of oil and dispersants?
SHAW: That's right. They're going through the -- these animals go through the water column with their mouths wide open. They're indiscriminately eating what they think is plankton.
And with all of this dispersed oil in the plumes, that is exactly what they're eating, is dispersed oil. And the reason this is so toxic is because of these solvents that penetrate the skin of anything that's going through the dispersed oil, takes the oil into the cells, takes the oil into the organs very quickly. And this stuff is toxic to every organ system in the body. So we've been really concerned.
SANCHEZ: Let me just ask you the obvious question that a lot of our viewers want to know and a lot of people have been asking. Would it have been different or worse or better to not use the dispersant and then just let the oil go into the Gulf of Mexico, or at least as the dispersant broke it up enough to help?
SHAW: Well, this was a tradeoff that was discussed, you know, and they made their decision to save the wetlands, the marshes from the thick oil by dispersing it into the ocean, thinking that that was the least of evils. But actually, it isn't the least of evils. We're starting to see a lot of death out there.
I just got off of a shrimping boat. I was out in an area of the Gulf that is -- it's definitely oiled. And I heard what is dead out there is just amazing.
All of the shrimp have died. All of the oysters. All of the crabs. All of the small fish.
I was out there for hours on this boat. We saw barely any birds. This is an area that is so rich in life, and now there is so much death out there.
There's no fish. The birds are starving. SANCHEZ: We just talked to a coral specialist --
SHAW: It's really bad.
SANCHEZ: -- who, by the way -- we just talked to a coral specialist, Susan, a little while ago, Dr. Shaw, who told us that 75 percent of the coral he had found had died in that area as well.
SANCHEZ: OK. Before I let you go, long-term view here? As a scientist, as an expert in this particular field, what do you believe will be the long-term effect of that which we're seeing now, which we can't yet understand perhaps?
SHAW: Well, I think we've lost a lot. We've lost generations of fish. We've lost pieces of this food web that'll never come back.
You know, it's going to take decades and decades. And I think the dispersant, the whole plan around the dispersants has made the situation far worse than if we just sucked up the oil with some technology that works that would have been far better.
But now we're going to look at long-term effects throughout the food web and people. And if we -- I can tell you what happens -- because I was in the oil -- to people. I don't know if we have the time --
SANCHEZ: Go ahead. Finish up. You've piqued my curiosity.
SHAW: OK. So I got a very fiery sore throat after being in the water. I had covered myself, all of my skin, so it wasn't skin contact, but the fumes. But I talked to shrimpers today who were throwing their nets into the water. It's about a month ago when they were using the more toxic COREXIT, the 9527.
The water from the nets splashed on his skin and he got a headache that lasted for three weeks. He had heart palpitations. He had muscle spasms and bleeding in the -- bleeding from the rectum.
And that's what that COREXIT does. It ruptures red blood cells, causes internal bleeding, and liver and kidney damage.
So this stuff is so toxic, combined, it's not the oil alone, the dispersant alone. It's the dispersed oil that still contains this stuff. It's very, very toxic. It goes right through skin.
SANCHEZ: Dr. Susan Shaw is a marine toxicologist who we've been wanting to get on for quite a while, because we knew she had some information to share with the rest of us about -- firsthand information about what's going on in the Gulf of Mexico.
I'm glad we finally had a chance to get you on, Dr. Shaw. Thanks for being with us. We appreciate your time.
SHAW: Thank you.