I’m not sure whether you want the chemical “how does it work?” or the practical “how will it help the environment?” so I’ll give you a little bit of both.
In essence, oil disperants fluid chemicals that bond to oil molecules and separate them from water molecules, thus breaking up–or “dispersing”–the oil. In doing so, disperants transform a monolithic oil spill into a series of tiny oil droplets.
How does this help? Well, for starters, these tiny oil droplets can biodegrade much more quickly than a mass of oil. Second, even before any oil has biodegraded, breaking up an oil slick makes the area much less dangerous for wildlife. And finally, dispersing the oil reduces–or negates–the chances of a large oil slick washing up on the beach tomorrow.
In short, while oil dispersants do not themselves “destroy” spilled oil, they do help speed up natural processes which do break down the oil.
However, I must note that the dispersants are often highly toxic, and thus may harm the environment more than they help.
While dispersants can cause environmental damage of their own–and the particular dispersants that BP is using are more toxic and less effective than others which are readily available–I’m not certain it’s correct to say that they generally “may harm the environment more than they help.” Of course, this is sometimes the case–and again, some dispersants are worse than others–but do you have any research to support that general claim?
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