On May 24, 2010, the Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER) on NASA's Terra satellite captured this false-color, high-resolution view of the very tip of the Mississippi River Delta. Ribbons and patches of oil that have leaked from the Deepwater Horizon well offshore are silver against the light blue color of the adjacent water. Vegetation is red.
Our oceans are generally resilient in the wake of contamination such as industrial waste, in part due to the highly effective filtration by deep sediments that can "bury" the toxins. Of course, there are limits. The BP Oil Spill is an alarming example. What happens when the ocean's filtration system, a delicate balance of sediments working together, are shut down?
Not surprisingly, wastewater generated from oil production can be quite toxic. An unappealing cocktail of toxins including heavy metals, this water contains high levels of mercury, lead, cadmium and arsenic. Of particular concern is arsenic: such waste can contain up to one hundred thousand times the safe limit in drinking water set by the Environmental Protection Agency. About two liquid ounces of contaminated wastewater consumed by a 150 pound person in one day corresponds to a lethal dose.