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Environmental sciences science fair project:
Oil Spill Absorbency of Polypropylene Pads vs. Natural Products




Science Fair Project Information
Title: Oil Spill Absorbency of Polypropylene Pads vs. Natural Products
Subject: Environmental Sciences
Grade level: Elementary School - Grades 4-6
Academic Level: Ordinary
Project Type: Experimental
Cost: Low
Affiliation: Selah Intermediate School
Year: 2006
Description: The oil spill absorbency products compared were hay, sheep wool, llama wool, and polypropylene pads. Mesh bags filled with absorbent were dipped into a tray with motor oil. Absorbency capacity of each material was calculated.
Link: http://www.selah.k12.wa.us/SOAR/SciProj2006/TensieP.html
Short Background

Methods of Cleaning an Oil Spill

Methods for cleaning up include:

  • Bioremediation: use of microorganisms or biological agents to break down or remove oil
  • Bioremediation Accelerator: Oleophilic, hydrophobic chemical, containing no bacteria, which chemically and physically bonds to both soluble and insoluble hydrocarbons. The bioremedation accelerator acts as a herding agent in water and on the surface, floating molecules to the surface of the water, including solubles such as phenols and BTEX, forming gel-like agglomerations. Non-detectable levels of hydrocarbons can be obtained in produced water and manageable water columns. By overspraying sheen with bioremediation accelerator, sheen is eliminated within minutes. Whether applied on land or on water, the nutrient-rich emulsion, creates a bloom of local, indigenous, pre-existing, hydrocarbon-consuming bacteria. Those specific bacteria break down the hydrocarbons into water and carbon dioxide, with EPA tests showing 98% of alkanes biodegraded in 28 days; and aromatics being biodegraded 200 times faster than in nature.
  • Controlled burning can effectively reduce the amount of oil in water, if done properly. But it can only be done in low wind, and can cause air pollution.
  • Dispersants act as detergents, clustering around oil globules and allowing them to be carried away in the water. This improves the surface aesthetically, and mobilizes the oil. Smaller oil droplets, scattered by currents, may cause less harm and may degrade more easily. But the dispersed oil droplets infiltrate into deeper water and can lethally contaminate coral. Recent research indicates that some dispersants are toxic to corals.
  • Watch and wait: in some cases, nautural attentuation of oil may be most appropriate, due to the invasive nature of facilitated methods of remediation, particularly in ecologically sensitive areas.
  • Dredging: for oils dispersed with detergents and other oils denser than water.
  • Skimming: Requires calm waters
  • Solidifying

Source: Wikipedia (All text is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License)

For more information (background, pictures, experiments and references): Oil Spills: K-12 Experiments & Background Information

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