Ecosystem Impacts Using Alcohol Fuels

7.10.1 Aquatic system impacts

The biological consequences of alcohol spills or leaks into marine water are sensitive to many factors such as scale and duration of the spill, tidal patterns, water currents, flow rate, temperature, and available oxygen. Marine life can tolerate low concentrations of alcohol.

In general, methanol and ethanol are significantly less toxic than gasoline or crude oil. Because alcohols are miscible, volatile, and degrad­able, they are dispersed readily, and diluted and neutralized in aquatic environments. The aquatic environment recovers more rapidly and com­pletely from an alcohol spill than from a gasoline or crude oil spill of the same volume.

7.10.2 Terrestrial system impacts

The direct exposure of soils to methanol spills results in immediate damage of surface vegetation. The miscibility, volatility, and degrad­ability of alcohols reduce the alcohol residence time in soil and mini­mizes the environmental impact. Fungal and bacterial populations, which are important agents of nutrient cycling, exhibit 80—90% recovery with 3 weeks of exposure. Total recovery of the site occurs within a period of weeks or months. In comparison, recovery of biodegradation by crude oil and petroleum products takes months or years.

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