National Geographic : 1970 Dec
Car of the future may be driven by a turbine, accord ing to George Huebner, Chrysler Corporation's Di rector of Research, here holding an engine's vaned compressor. The turbine engine burns hydrocarbons more completely and pro duces less carbon monoxide than a piston engine. Nei ther as yet effectively con trols nitrogen-oxide emis sions. Also undergoing tests are cars powered by lique fied natural gas, electricity, and steam. For the present, manufacturers are develop ing pollution controls on conventional engines to meet increasingly rigorous federal emission standards. "We know more about oil's toxic properties now, because a spill near here-160,000 to 175,000 gallons of number 2 fuel oil-has turned out to be something of a lab experi ment in oil pollution and its aftermath." The spill occurred September 16, 1969, off West Falmouth, Massachusetts. Three days later oceanographers trawled the area. Ninety five percent of their catch was dead, and the rest was dying. "Now, a year later, bottom life is still being poisoned," Dr. Blumer said. "Toxic sub stances in the oil have entered the sediment. They seep out and spread with the current. Even after the poison has been diluted a thousand times, it kills shellfish. Where it doesn't kill, it gets into their meat-and it will persist there as long as they live." More than two million tons of oil a year, Dr. Blumer estimates, come from tankers that flush out their tanks at sea (local laws prevent their doing so in port) and from ves sels that pump out oily bilge water. All too often, their wastes drift ashore to foul beaches. But Dr. Blumer and others are perfecting techniques that "fingerprint" oil-tell exactly where the oil came from. The day may come when the careless voiding of oil at sea can be traced to a specific ship, and the captain or owners charged with negligence. In March 1967, when the tanker Torrey Canyon went aground off the British coast, 110,000 tons of oil spilled out. I asked Dr. Blumer what measures could be taken to clean up a huge oil slick of that kind. 762 "Speed is essential," he said, "since the most toxic elements dissolve quickly into the sea water. If the oil can be pumped into air dropped bladders or into another ship ... fine. If not, burning is probably the best answer, though that causes air pollution, of course. Containing booms haven't worked out well. Detergents or dispersants may get the prob lem out of sight, but they do it by sinking the oil down into the marine environment, where it can do more damage." We talked of the oilman's new frontier, the Arctic.* "A spill up there would be very bad," Dr. Blumer warned. "Degradation of the oil would be slow in that cold climate, so toxic effects would last longer. Another factor wor ries me even more, though. Most organisms in the Arctic ice areas are dependent on the top few inches of ocean under the ice-it's the only region where solar energy penetrates to an appreciable degree. If an oil tanker ripped its bottom open, the oil would float in that top few inches of sunlit water." DDT-Boon and Hazard In 1874 a German chemist named Othmar Zeidler created a new compound. Its jaw breaking name was dichloro-diphenyl trichloroethane. We know it as DDT. Dr. Zeidler was unaware that he had found a potential insecticide. Sixty-five years passed before the insecticidal properties were recog nized-just before World War II. *See "North for Oil," by Bern Keating, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC, March 1970.