Chemical dispersants: Oil biodegradation friend or foe?

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Chemical dispersants were used in response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, both at the sea surface and the wellhead. Their effect on oil biodegradation is unclear, as studies showed both inhibition and enhancement. This study addresses the effect of Corexit on oil biodegradation by alkane and/or aromatic degrading bacterial culture in artificial seawater at different dispersant to oil ratios (DORs). Our results show that dispersant addition did not enhance oil biodegradation. At DOR 1:20, biodegradation was inhibited, especially when only the alkane degrading culture was present. With a combination of cultures, this inhibition was overcome after 10. days. This indicates that initial inhibition of oil biodegradation can be overcome when different bacteria are present in the environment. We conclude that the observed inhibition is related to the enhanced dissolution of aromatic compounds into the water, inhibiting the alkane degrading bacteria.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)113-119
JournalMarine Pollution Bulletin
Issue number1-2
Publication statusPublished - 2016


  • Biodegradation
  • Dispersant
  • Enhanced dissolution
  • Oil spill

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