Just as we thought the Deepwater Horizon disaster was taking a turn for the better, a report released today uncovered a 22-mile long underwater plume of degrading crude migrating across the Gulf of Mexico.

The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution found chemicals such as benzene (a highly flammable carcinogen) and toluene (a hydrocarbon commonly used in paint thinner) in the plume and they estimate it will remain in deep-sea waters for months.

The research serves as a gloomy reminder that the crisis in the Gulf is far from over, and it has called even the most optimistic observers to question the clean-up process.

The questions and criticisms are coming from both sides of the political aisle.

“People want to believe that everything is O.K. and I think this report and the way it is being discussed is giving many people a false sense of confidence regarding the state of the Gulf,” U.S. Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass, said about one of the Obama administration’s reports on the spill.

Scientists don’t know just how toxic the plume is or how serious of a threat it poses for sea life. Most of the data for the study was collected in June until research was interrupted by Hurricane Alex. No one knows what the state of the plume is in today, however scientists do know that tiny microbes in the ocean are constantly eating away at it.

On the upside, B.P. capped the well by August 15 and the company is expected to permanently seal the well sometime after Labor Day. So far about 4.9 million barrels of oil have spilled into the Gulf of Mexico.

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