The maker of a new chemical deemed by West Germany to be environmentally safe and effective for ridding water and soil of petroleum is proposing using it to help clean up the oil spill off the Alaskan coast.
At least one biologist who has visited the site of the spill has said the product, BioVersal, appears to be safer to wildlife and much faster-acting than methods currently in use.Information about the product was delivered Monday at the Coast Guard headquarters in Washington to Lt. Cmdr. Peter Tebeau, chief of the marine systems branch of the Coast Guard Research and Development Center in Groton, Conn.
The Coast Guard is coordinating the effort by Exxon Corp., Alaska and federal agencies and private fishermen to clean up the 10.9 million gallons of oil spilled into Alaska's Prince William Sound by the supertanker Exxon Valdez.
A Coast Guard spokesman declined to say whether BioVersal was among those products that appeared to be feasible, and Tebeau could not be reached Monday for comment.
But one wildlife biologist, Albert Manville, said he favors BioVersal because it is touted as fast-acting, has a record of success in West Germany and has been found environmentally safe by West Germany's Institute of Hygiene, the equivalent of the Environmental Protection Agency.
BioVersal, a synthetic substance made in West Germany by a company of the same name, breaks down oil into tiny molecules that are then consumed by bacteria, said Charles Wilde, a U.S representative of the company.
The chemical differs from dispersants currently used by U.S. companies that merely break oil into particles that sink, Manville said. American-made dispersants also have been found to be highly toxic to fish and other marine life, he said.
By comparison, Bioversal is environmentally benign, Wilde said. Made of hydrogen, oxygen and carbon, it produces no harmful byproducts. BioVersal has been in use in West Germany for a year and is available there in supermarkets.
In other developments in the cleanup of the massive spill:
-A concerted effort by a Soviet oil skimmer and an armada of U.S. vessels failed to stop oil from flowing down the strait between Kodiak Island and the Alaska Peninsula, fouling a national park and coating hundreds of animals.
Federal wildlife officials lambasted Exxon Monday for "unconscionable" delays in treating sea otters that have been soaked in oil, as the gunk made a big push ashore at Katmai National Park and forced officials to call off herring fishing in Shelikof Strait.
The pilots of reconnaissance flights spotted 500 sea otters, 200 sea lions, and several whales in or near oily water between Kodiak and the Alaska Peninsula.
-Exxon says it wants to burn or bury the sludge recovered in cleaning up the spill, and says environmental laws may have to be bypassed to allow the disposal.