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Dispersants are among a number of options available to oil spill responders. The goals of this technique are to remove oil from surface waters in order to reduce exposure of surface-dwelling organisms, to keep oil slicks from impacting sensitive shorelines, and to protect responders from volatile organic compounds. During the Deepwater Horizon response, unprecedented volumes of dispersants (Corexit 9500 and 9527) were both sprayed on surface slicks from airplanes and applied directly at the wellhead (~1,500 m water depth). A decade of research followed, leading to a deeper understanding of dispersant effectiveness, fate, and effects. These studies resulted in new knowledge regarding dispersant formulations, efficacy, and effects on organisms and processes at a broad range of exposure levels, and about potential environmental and human impacts. Future studies should focus on the application of high volumes of dispersants subsea and the long-term fate and effects of dispersants and dispersed oil. In considering effects, the research and applications of the knowledge gained should go beyond concerns for acute toxicity and consider sublethal impacts at all levels of biological organization. Contingency planning for the use of dispersants during oil spill response should consider more deeply the temporal duration, effectiveness (especially of subsurface applications), spatial reach, and volume applied.

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Oceanography, v. 34, no. 1, p. 98-111

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