Danger of a fuel spill after US Airways flight 1549 crash
After US Airways Flight 1549 crashed in the Hudson River today, environmentalists are concerned about the dangers of an oil spill occuring in the river from the fuel that is located on the plane.
Oil spills can have a drastic effect on marine life and an even longer effect on the surrounding ecosystem.
Simply, the effects of oil on marine life, are caused by either the physical nature of the oil (physical contamination and smothering) or by its chemical components (toxic effects and accumulation leading to tainting). Marine life may also be affected by clean-up operations or indirectly through physical damage to the habitats in which plants and animals live.
The main threat posed to living resources by the persistent residues of spilled oils and water-in-oil emulsions ("mousse") is one of physical smothering. The animals and plants most at risk are those that could come into contact with a contaminated sea surface. Marine mammals and reptiles; birds that feed by diving or form flocks on the sea; marine life on shorelines; and animals and plants in mariculture facilities.
As the most dangerous part of oil is the part that is evaporated first, large-scale mortalities of marine life are quite rare. However, the longer term effects of gradual disease and toxins entering the water and food supply for the marine animals can be much more devastating.
Sedentary animals like oysters in shallow water are likely to accumulate oil as they filter the water and they will filter the oil as well. If an animal consumes an oyster they could get sick from the oil stored there.
Even if a person eats a contaminated oyster, the same result will happen.
In addition, coastal habitats can be covered in fuel and oil if the spill is big enough and the animals and fish that can be covered by slick oil will either never recover or will need to be cleaned by hand.
It is still unsure if fuel is leaking from the plane, but it could be made up of a variety of materials, such as crude oil, refined petroleum, or even oil mixed in waste. Spills can take months and even years to clear up.
By observing the thickness of the film of oil and its appearance on the surface of the water, it is possible to estimate the quantity of oil spilled. If the surface area of the spill is also known, the total volume of the oil can be calculated.
Oil spill model systems are used by industry and government to assist in planning and emergency decision making. Of critical importance for the skill of the oil spill model prediction is the adequate description of the wind and current fields. There is a worldwide oil spill modelling (WOSM) program.
It remains to be seen whether this will be a problem in the wake of the US Airways flight 1549 crash.