Scientists reveal identity of mystery marine pollutant

February 8, 2013
Scientists reveal identity of mystery marine pollutant

Scientists at Plymouth University appear to have identified the 'mystery' waxy oil-like substance which has been polluting seabirds along the south coast of the UK.

"All of the analytical data we have points to the identification of the substance as a polyisobutene or PIB mixture", said Professor Steve Rowland of the University's Centre for .

PIBs are a range of substances varying from low molecular weight oils to high weight solids, but Professor Rowland and Research Officer Dr Paul Sutton think the culprit waxy sticky substance is a mid-range material often used as lubricant additive.

The results show the particular mixture of hydrocarbons in the oil has an average molecular weight of about 1,080 . Manufacturers describe similar materials as colourless, odourless and sticky, all consistent with the appearance of the oil on the birds' feathers.

"With funding from the European Research Council, we have recently developed special methods for analysis of oils in this range, including , which we were able to rule out at an early stage as a contaminant in this case" said Professor Rowland, "as the profiles did not match that of the mystery oil".

The researchers received an oiled for analysis from the RSPCA, recovered from Chesil Beach in Dorset., and have been conducting laboratory tests upon it. They released their findings on Wednesday to the Maritime & Coastguard Agency and the RSPCA.

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not rated yet Feb 11, 2013
1080 carbon atoms? What the hey is that supposed to mean? a molecular weight of 1080 x 12? Since hydrocarbons of over 35 carbons are usually solids, that would normally be a solid. Whoever used such a notation? Good Grief!
not rated yet Feb 11, 2013
Since hydrocarbons of over 35 carbons are usually solids
It's probably residue from Deep Horizon oil spill. Many hydrocarbons of even higher molecular weight remain waxy and fluous, when they're presented in mixture and oxidized partially. The water molecules attached to hydrocarbon chains are making them fluid in similar way like the latex emulsion.

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