You may have seen this video, which has surfaced on a number of blogs and has registered over half a million hits: It purports to show oil literally raining from the sky in Louisiana. And watch the clip -- which I've embedded right after the jump -- and you'll see that it certainly looks a lot like oil. But can oil from the BP Gulf spill really evaporate and then get dumped down miles away as rain?Under normal circumstances, absolutely not -- remember that whole thing about water and oil? It's a saying for a reason. But what if some experimental chemical dispersant had been dumped onto the oil in question? Could Corexit-altered crude turn into oil-rain? Rain that looks like this?
Still most likely not.
For the most part, oil itself doesn't actually evaporate, though some of the chemical elements in crude oil can. (The sticky tar balls washing ashore are the remnants.) That hasn't stopped some from hypothesizing that, given the dispersants BP has been applying in unprecedented quantities in the Gulf and the lack of information about how they work, it's possible that dispersant-altered oil may indeed be entering the atmosphere. The EPA says this isn't the case. "EPA has no data, information or scientific basis that suggests that oil mixed with dispersant could possibly evaporate from the Gulf into the water cycle," the agency said in a statement. (But then again, the EPA also has very little science on the environmental or health effects of dispersants, as it has admitted previously.)NOAA says such oil rain is impossible, saying that the "notion of oily rain is a myth."
But Sheppard notes that the video is valuable whether or not it depicts oily rain or not -- it serves as a reminder that there are unseen toxins that do evaporate during spills. "There's a bigger concern than oil visibly raining from the sky; it's the toxins you can't see," she writes. "Gases in oil that can evaporate are known as volatile organic compounds, or VOCs. A 2003 National Academy of Sciences (NAS) report notes that light crude can lose up to 75 percent of its initial volume due to evaporation of VOCs after a spill."
Those VOCs can cause headaches and respiratory problems, and potentially a host of other ailments. They pose the real problem. The oily rain in the video? Most likely just the runoff from oil previously spilled onto the road