Earth Talk

Double Concern

Gulf Oil Lingering On The Sea Floor; Is Teeth Whitening Safe?

From The Editors Of E/The Environmental Maganzine

Topographica Map Of Estimated Percentage Of Oil On Gulf Coast Sea Floor

A friend of mine working on the Gulf Coast oil cleanup says that at least 50 percent of the loose oil is laying on the sea floor. What’s the long-term prognosis
of this?

— Chris H., Darien, CT

It’s true that oil from BPs Deepwater Horizon fiasco is still sticking to and covering parts of the sea floor for some 80 miles or more around the site of the now-capped well. In early September, researchers from the University of Georgia found oil some two inches thick on the sea floor as far as 80 miles away from the source of the leak, with a layer of dead shrimp and other small animals under it.

“I expected to find oil on the sea floor,” Samantha Joye, lead researcher for the University of Georgia’s team of scientists studying the effects of the Deepwater Horizon spill, told reporters. “I didn’t expect to find layers two inches thick. It’s kind of like having a blizzard where the snow comes in and covers everything,” Joye said.

But as recently as three months ago the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported finding no evidence of oil accumulating on the sea floor in the Gulf. NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco told reporters then that the oil from the massive spill that never made it to the surface was dispersed naturally or chemically. She added that only about a quarter of the 200 million gallons of spilled oil remained in the Gulf, the rest having “disappeared” or been contained or cleaned up.

But some researchers say NOAA misled the public by saying that much of the oil simply disappeared. Ian MacDonald, an oceanographer at Florida State University, says that initial reports from NOAA about how much oil remains in the Gulf were too optimistic. The oil “did not disappear,” he says. “It sank.”

The new findings are particularly troubling because of the potential ripple effects the remaining oil could have on the wider ecosystem and industries that rely on a healthy marine environment. Marine biologists and environmentalists worry that the oil is doing significant harm to populations of tube worms, tiny crustaceans and mollusks, single-cell organisms and other underwater life forms that shape the building blocks of the marine food chain.

CONTACTS: University of Georgia Department of Marine Sciences Gulf Oil Blog, gulfblog.uga.edu; NOAA, www.noaa.gov; Louisiana State University, www.lsu.edu.

I’m considering going for a teeth whitening, but is this safe to do?

— Clara Reid, Kent, Washington

Teeth Whitening Strip

In the U.S., teeth whitening products are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, as they are not classified as drugs. As such, long term safety data doesn’t exist for them. But health experts warn that consumers should beware of the risks of using stronger varieties containing hydrogen peroxide. Hydrogen peroxide tends to be more effective (it essentially bleaches the tooth enamel), but it is a harsh chemical that can be poisonous if swallowed.
Dentists can access teeth whitening solutions with higher concentrations of hydrogen peroxide than are available over-the-counter; as such a professional job in your dentist’s office will be more effective and last longer than the solutions you can take home from the drug store. And while higher concentrations of hydrogen peroxide might not be what you’re looking for, dentists can apply it in more targeted ways. If you do it yourself at home there is a greater chance you will expose your gums and other parts of your mouth to hydrogen peroxide or swallow more of it than you should.
As for maintaining that bright white look, whether you did it yourself or had it done professionally, your local drugstore or supermarket no doubt carries a wide selection of toothpastes that claim to whiten teeth. The ones which work the best contain—you guessed it!—hydrogen peroxide, which can be irritating if used day after day.
Fortunately for the health-minded home teeth whitener there are many less harsh varieties of these toothpastes now on the market. The Web site Skin Deep, a free online safety guide to cosmetics and personal care products published by the non-profit Environmental Working Group, lists Tom’s of Maine Natural Antiplaque Tartar Control Plus Whitening Toothpaste—which makes use of all-natural hydrated silica, not hydrogen peroxide, for whitening and stain removal—as one of the safest kinds of whitening toothpastes out there today. Burt’s Bees Natural Fluoride-Free Whitening Toothpaste and CloSYS Toothpaste for Teeth Whitening also get high marks from Skin Deep for their natural, non-toxic ingredients. While such products may not be “advanced” formulations from a leading packaged goods conglomerate, your teeth and body may thank you later.

CONTACTS: U.S. Food and Drug Administration, www.fda.gov; Europa, www.europa.eu; Greenfootsteps, www.greenfootsteps.com; Skin Deep, www.cosmeticsdatabase.com; Tom’s of Maine, www.tomsofmaine.com; Burt’s Bees, www.burtsbees.com; CloSYS, www.rowpar.com.

SEND YOUR ENVIRONMENTAL QUESTIONS TO: EarthTalk®, c/o E – The Environmental Magazine, P.O. Box 5098, Westport, CT 06881; earthtalk@emagazine.com.

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