Heavy Metal Thunder

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Chemistry happens, biology is a structure and ecology is… Everything.

The entire ocean life is just loaded with a series of contaminants, most of which have been released by human beings…


If whale populations really are terminally poisoned by heavy metals and other toxins, I guess we’ve finally shown those blubbery sentience upstarts just who’s boss. More likely, as we dose ourselves into oblivion, we are mere disposable meat puppets for those damn scheming jellyfish. Enjoy the planet guys and try to keep the tentacle pr0n down to a minimum. Cthulhu’s watching.


Written by nullsequence

June 25, 2010 at 6:04 am

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I Want to Say Just One Word to You…

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It’s probably not unreasonable to bet that there are some significant long term health syndromes ready to erupt out of the populations of the Gulf Coast. Having just seen the premiere of the hydro-fracking expose Gasland I’d add a few tens of millions of people to this pool. Over the next decade the only shocking thing will be if this toxin-dosed cohort does NOT present a variety of chronic neurological and diffuse systemic ailments.

Since we seem to be producing toxic pollution at an insane rate, perhaps toxicology or epidemiology might not be bad career choices these days. If of course, you can find a non-evil someone to pay your salary, here in the midst of the Great Recession.

Written by nullsequence

June 22, 2010 at 7:49 am

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Chuck it in, See What Happens

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As the manic addition of millions of gallons of dispersant into the core of the Gulf Gusher has apparently become the new normal, I suppose silly questions of lethality and toxicity have become the new quaint.

At the most extreme, stripped-of-consequence nub is a confusion of science with engineering, of knowledge with hacking. We assume that we can not only detect the perturbations but also measure their effects. Perhaps this might be possible if we even knew all the moving parts in the Gulf biology. But we don’t. Nor will we ever, it seems.

Medical researchers work within a very strict regulatory framework.A research proposal where you suggest measuring lethal toxicity by simply bathing your subjects in various concentrations of known toxins and waiting for them to twitch might be easily approved for bacteria, but not so much for animals and certainly not humans.

Yet we are doing that in the Gulf RIGHT NOW!

The oil is being mixed with the “dispersing” agent and sunken out of the line of sight of the TV cameras patrolling the sugar-sand beachfronts. This subsurface emulsion is destined to bioaccumulate up whatever hierarchy of marine life that is not poisoned outright. What this means here at the human end of the food chain is anyone’s guess. It probably won’t be yummy.

We’re now at the end of June. Given some serious drilling-fu and a double handful of pixie dust the blowout might stopped by August. So, depending on your pessimism level this Gulf Coast season might be either “The Lost Summer” or the previous season “The Last Summer”.
Either way, a comfortable normality has been traded away for the potential possession of a few days consumption of oil. And, maybe, a few reams of data on how much toxic crap an ocean biome can suck up before it dies, or morphs into something untasty. Which is something, I guess.

A cup half-full, of poison.

Written by nullsequence

June 21, 2010 at 7:39 am

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A Look, a Sniff, Dinner!

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OK, I’m sure these guys are fairly good at what they do, but sniff testing for oily fragrance would seem to be a very rough way of judging toxin loads in seafood.

And I suppose that it’s smart of them to staff-up, as the oil won’t be stopping anytime soon.

But who really thinks that the human nose will be adequate to whiff-out not only poisoning hydrocarbons, but also the toxic dispersant chemicals? Sorry, only some double-blind tests with HPLC verification could make me comfortable with this method of assay.

Anyway, there needs to be much more than just occasional backup lab testing of whatever seafood remains to be harvested in the Gulf. Apart from the massive public health issue, the sale and distribution of even one tainted batch of Gulf Coast shrimp will nuke the tattered remains of a once proud industry.

Written by nullsequence

June 13, 2010 at 2:01 am

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“Amity, As You Know, Means Friendship!”

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I’ve been wanting to cough up some oh-so-clever commentary comparing the Gulf Coast to the to the idyllic oceanside tourist town in the classic movie “Jaws”. But as the two month mark nears a gusher of oil is still blasting out and the toxic dispersants are still flowing. The most effective actions to date have targeted media control and liability management. A culture and ecosystem are dying even as corporations are considered by plutocratic fiat to be “too big to fail”.

So much for the shark, the mayor, the Chief and the Captain.

Just off the the Gulf coast is a giant skulking toxic mass of oily hydrocarbons, known-poisonous ‘dispersant’ and dead biology. The winds and currents steer it where they may.
While authorities encourage us to assume that “nature” will handle the oil through some quasi-magical measure of natural bioremediation, the sheer quantities of this toxic dose combined with the insidious dispersant-mediated distribution throughout the water column will exact a heavy toll on marine life for years to come.

As for the coastal communities dependent upon the Gulf ecosystem being healthy and fertile, well they understand all too well the risks, the dangers and the urgency of response. Left alone the oozing blobs of poison will kill quietly, with most of the death concealed and uncounted forever in the depths. Indeed we may lose uncounted marine microbial species without ever knowing of their existence.

Here at the top of the food chain the fishermen will have less catch, less income and less motivation to carry on. Already oyster farmers along the coast are looking desperation in the eye and seeing years of poisoned nursery beds. Even well-established iconic business are bleeding to death.

Barring a containment effort as heroic as it is unlikely, many of the tourist beach communities and attendant economies will lose a big chunk of summer income. And there are no certainties that the loss will be restricted to just this summer. In the midst of the Great Recession this is another cruel blow from which many will not recover.
And perhaps most importantly for the region, the Gulf Coast brand itself will face a deeply painful ruination, again with no guarantee of being confined to the current season.

It’s hard not to think that much of the damage may have already been set into untamable motion. The leak is pluming up from the bottom of the Gulf, spreading widely as it rises. By choosing to chemically “disperse” the oil both at the surface and at the source 5000′ below, we have assured that much of the oil is unlikely to be collectible by skimmers or tankers, or probably anything else. And that 1.8+ million gallons of toxic dispersant will likely wander around the food chain for some time to come.

Even if the gushing flow were completely capped today the cleanup options may be mostly limited to booming shorelines, vacuuming oil puddles and scooping & scraping the damaged beaches. Comprehensive repair of the marshes may be as far beyond human ability as is bringing back the 11 dead rig workers.

Some time well into the future, perhaps 100 years or so, Gulf Disaster scholars will puzzle over the decision to dump massive quantities of toxic dispersants into an already catastrophic spill of poison. They may well also marvel that it appeared to have been done mostly for corporate self interest, with the grinning acquiescence of governmental Authorities.
Most of all they will be shocked at the extent that manic elements of extractive dependence still dominated our energy technology in the early 21st century. Shocked also, at the virulence of the amok memes which forced us to engage in increasingly risky and unforgiving resource exploitation, while assiduously avoiding the subsuming challenges of ecological collapse, population overrun and resource bounding.

Back here in the ’21st, swimming blithely along through the poison, we are at least a generation away from even accepting that such challenges block our pathways to that far distant future.

Written by nullsequence

June 12, 2010 at 11:31 pm

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Burn Baby, Burn

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Yesterday it was announced that BP would be burning off “excess oil” captured by the LMRP top hat. There were difficulties in ramping up the collection capacity and anyway there was a lot of water in the oil so it would be more costly to process. So they decided to burn it.

Um, What?

Can’t BP capture the oil, process and sell it? They ARE an oil company, right?

Seems odd, bordering on insane.

  • Pollute the Gulf with a possibly lethal dose of crude oil: check!
  • Dump in millions of gallons of toxic dispersant chemicals, actually banned in the BP’s UK home country: check!
  • Burn off inconvenient oil offshore: checkaroony with a banana!

A lawyer buddy of mine once mused that behind every insane corporate act is a legal constraint rubbing against a balance sheet.

If BP can get away with this burning we might as well just go ahead and absolve them of all damages and liabilities, in perpetuity. Maybe we already have.

Written by nullsequence

June 11, 2010 at 3:53 pm

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If Your Plans Require an Apollo 13 Effort, You are Doing it Wrong

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Over a month into the Gulf Disaster a rising wave of desperation may be easing somewhat as the risky ‘top-kill’ procedure appears to be proceeding well.

And the media is noticing that there are a lot of smart, amped-up people working long hours in offices and control rooms to pull off this fix.

For our dumbed-down pop media culture, iconifying the people in those rooms is a least confusing assumption. We have come to expect a world where a few redemptional heroes brandish a simple and immediate fix, just as the timer clicks down to zero. Pumping them up as a “dream team” and invoking NASA heroics during the Apollo 13 crisis are just ways to fill out roles in a pre-packaged narrative. But that is an ephemeral fantasy.

Today a variety of experts are being called upon to come up with an instant fix for an increasingly catastrophic problem. For the moment they are being listened to, for the time being their voices and opinions are granted effectual weight in the halls of power. And if they manage to pull it off, to supply the fix, cap the wellhead and stop the Gulf Gusher they (at least the top tier) will be feted with the appropriate 15 minutes of LUV.

A few days later they will go back to being mostly ignored and barely tolerated. The annoying little twerps who keep the gas in the pumps, cell phones running and the lights glowing. I have news for you; the terms “geek” and “nerd” are NOT terms of affection but rather dominance and submission.

Because a distressingly large proportion of America has somehow become infected with a ravenous, cancerous anti-intellectual mindset. Education and intellectual displays are tolerated only to the extent that they catalyze the generation of large amounts of money. And never mind the existential sideshow of ecosystem destruction, fixing the Gulf Gusher is associated with lots of money. So open up that cellar and fish out the gimps smart people who can jump into the panic.
For the legions of the Proudly Dumb (and their imitators) there simply is no downside. If the leak gets stopped you buy some cookies to sugar-off the the dorks until the next panic. Otherwise it’s a magnificent affirmation of the uselessness of education and the ascendency of Fate and Divine Control. Win baby, Win.

As a descendant consequence we replace planning and preparation with corporate-political exigency and a patch-up kit. This panic-by-design approach will no doubt characterize our eventual tackling of the Really Serious Consequences of disruptive climate change. Not much of anything will be done until the last possible moment, right as the abyss opens and existential doom throws out a claw. Then a fire-fight and a patch.
But no preparation, indeed keep to sociopathic priorities. No education; cut the school budgets! Fire some more teachers! Keep the prisons full and the taxes low. If all else fails we’ll just nuke anything dangerous that comes our way. Like asteroids, or deepwater oilwell blowouts. It works in the movies.

Because Apollo 13 had a happy ending. Smart, dedicated people came through in the nick of time, under total pressure to save the day.

But those Apollo heroes did not just get delivered from a temp agency. They were there all along, working long invisible hours for Wall Street cab fare salaries. And they would want no part of being called “heroes”. They made their magic because they practiced for routine. If your planning depends upon crisis mode heroics you are Doing It Wrong. You are also an idiot.

We want the magic but absolutely nothing to do with the routine. The entire magic supply chain, from early-childhood education to post-doctoral positions is beaten down, denigrated, downsized, ostracized. Wages and salaries are cut and cut and cut again. Teachers are in the front ranks of the expendable whenever local or state governments get themselves in a budget bind. They are easy to dump because any consequences will mostly arrive years later. Certainly after re-election time.

So, slowly the pipeline supply of potential magicians runs thin and you should not be too surprised when you find that there is an insufficient supply in-house. And then you will rent and you will pay and you will do whatever the market demands. Which is a shame because Peak Magic, unlike Peak Oil, is a voluntary condition. And the future does not care.

Written by nullsequence

May 26, 2010 at 4:03 pm

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