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CNN Today

French Scientists Claim Improved Way to Clean Brittany Oil Spill

Aired January 26, 2000 - 1:52 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: Six weeks ago, an oil tanker sank off the coast of Brittany. You can guess what happened next. One- hundred-fifteen tons of crude oil washed up on the northwest coast of France. Rocky coasts and cold water are a bad combination for oil spills.

But as CNN's Peter Humi reports, a group of inventors thinks they have a cure.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PETER HUMI, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): All along the Atlantic coastline of Brittany, the task of cleaning up continues. It is slow, back-breaking work, and with every tide comes the chance that more oil will be washed ashore. Now, a company from the south of France claims it's developed a new method to help deal with such ecological crises.

PATRICE STENGEL, SCIENTIST: (through translator): The difference, I would say, is that all other methods can't clean as efficiently as ours. Our process works simply with cold water and leaves the sand with just 0.001 percent of traces of oil.

HUMI: Stengel and a small team of fellow scientists set up a makeshift demonstration on the polluted shores of Le Croisic. Sand caked with oil is mixed with activating agents, their makeup a heavily-guarded secret. Then so-called bioconfetti, a small polystyrene-like substance, is added. Acting like a magnet, they draw off the oil and float to the surface. The confetti are placed in a centrifuge. Crude oil is siphoned off. In theory, the process produces sand, water and oil that are uncontaminated.

If representatives of the oil industry were impressed, they didn't show it.

MICHEL FONTAINE, TOTAL-FINA (through translator): We'll need to compare this method with others. There is such a variety of pollution here that different methods might be needed. We'll need to see the factory process before we can make any decision.

HUMI: The refinery in southern France has been built to repeat the process on an industrial scale. Three hundred tons of sand and oil can be cleaned and separated a day, say the scientists. (on camera): The inventors themselves admit that this is no miracle cure. They estimate it would still take about six months even using their methods to clean up the pollution caused by the sinking of the Erica.

(voice-over): The sand would still need to be collected, as now, and taken away for treatment.

"Look," says Stengel, "This beach, it's been cleaned, allegedly. Below the surface, there are still lumps of crude oil."

Rocks can also be cleaned using a derivative of the bioconfetti called, in French, biofeathers.

Whether the process is eventually adopted is up to the French government and the big oil companies. What's certain is that it comes too late for the 45,000 sea birds that are known to have been killed and too late to help dozens of resorts like Le Croisic.

Peter Humi, CNN, in Brittany, France.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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