Image via Jennifer Aitken
BP used at least “1.9 million gallons of widely banned toxic dispersants” to treat the 4.9 million barrels of oil that leaked into the Gulf of Mexico from the Deepwater Horizon drilling-rig disaster, and the consequences of treating the oil with dispersants has the potential to make both people and wildlife sick. Via Dahr Jamail at Aljazeera.net:
Naman, who works at the Analytical Chemical Testing Lab in Mobile, Alabama, has been carrying out studies to search for the chemical markers of the dispersants BP used to both sink and break up its oil.
According to Naman, poly-aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) from this toxic mix are making people sick. PAHs contain compounds that have been identified as carcinogenic, mutagenic, and teratogenic.
Fisherman across the four states most heavily affected by the oil disaster - Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida - have reported seeing BP spray dispersants from aircraft and boats offshore.
“The dispersants are being added to the water and are causing chemical compounds to become water soluble, which is then given off into the air, so it is coming down as rain, in addition to being in the water and beaches of these areas of the Gulf,” Naman added.
“I’m scared of what I’m finding. These cyclic compounds intermingle with the Corexit [dispersants] and generate other cyclic compounds that aren’t good. Many have double bonds, and many are on the EPA’s danger list. This is an unprecedented environmental catastrophe.”
. . .
“I started to vomit brown, and my pee was brown also,” Matsler, a Vietnam veteran who lives in Dauphin Island, said. “I kept that up all day. Then I had a night of sweating and non-stop diarrhea unlike anything I’ve ever experienced.”
He was also suffering from skin rashes, nausea, and a sore throat.
At roughly the same time Matsler was exposed, local television station WKRG News 5 took a water sample from his area to test for dispersants. The sample literally exploded when it was mixed with an organic solvent separating the oil from the water.
Naman, the chemist who analyzed the sample, said: “We think that it most likely happened due to the presence of either methanol or methane gas or the presence of the dispersant Corexit.”
“I’m still feeling terrible,” Matsler told Al Jazeera recently. “I’m about to go to the doctor again right now. I’m short of breathe, the diarrhea has been real bad, I still have discoloration in my urine, and the day before yesterday, I was coughing up white foam with brown spots in it.”
As for Matsler’s physical reaction to his exposure, Hugh Kaufman, an EPA whistleblower and analyst, has reported this of the effects of the toxic dispersants:
“We have dolphins that are hemorrhaging. People who work near it are hemorrhaging internally. And that’s what dispersants are supposed to do…”
By the middle of last summer, the Alabama Department of Public Health said that 56 people in Mobile and Baldwin counties had sought treatment for what they believed were oil disaster-related illnesses.
“The dispersants used in BP’s draconian experiment contain solvents such as petroleum distillates and 2-butoxyethanol,” Dr. Riki Ott, a toxicologist, marine biologist, and Exxon Valdez survivor, told Al Jazeera.
“Solvents dissolve oil, grease, and rubber,” she continued, “Spill responders have told me that the hard rubber impellors in their engines and the soft rubber bushings on their outboard motor pumps are falling apart and need frequent replacement.”
“Given this evidence, it should be no surprise that solvents are also notoriously toxic to people, something the medical community has long known,” Dr. Ott added.
“In ‘Generations at Risk’, medical doctor Ted Schettler and others warn that solvents can rapidly enter the human body. They evaporate in air and are easily inhaled, they penetrate skin easily, and they cross the placenta into fetuses. For example, 2- butoxyethanol (in Corexit) is a human health hazard substance; it is a fetal toxin and it breaks down blood cells, causing blood and kidney disorders.”
Pathways of exposure to the dispersants are inhalation, ingestion, skin, and eye contact. Health impacts include headaches, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pains, chest pains, respiratory system damage, skin sensitization, hypertension, central nervous system depression, neurotoxic effects, genetic mutations, cardiac arrhythmia, and cardiovascular damage.
Even the federal government has taken precautions for its employees. US military officials decided to reroute training flights in the Gulf region in order to avoid oil and dispersant tainted-areas.
Corexit 9527 is some nasty stuff. Via Wikipedia:
Corexit 9527, considered by the EPA to be an acute health hazard, is stated by its manufacturer to be potentially harmful to red blood cells, the kidneys and the liver, and may irritate eyes and skin. The chemical 2-butoxyethanol, found in Corexit 9527, was identified as having caused lasting health problems in workers involved in the cleanup of the Exxon Valdez oil spill. According to the Alaska Community Action on Toxics, the use of Corexit during the Exxon Valdez oil spill caused people “respiratory, nervous system, liver, kidney and blood disorders”. Like 9527, 9500 can cause hemolysis (rupture of blood cells) and may also cause internal bleeding.
According to the EPA, Corexit is more toxic than dispersants made by several competitors and less effective in handling southern Louisiana crude. On May 20, 2010, the EPA ordered BP to look for less toxic alternatives to Corexit, and later ordered BP to stop spraying dispersants, but BP responded that it thought that Corexit was the best alternative and continued to spray it.
Reportedly Corexit may be toxic to marine life and helps keep spilled oil submerged. There is concern that the quantities used in the Gulf will create ‘unprecedented underwater damage to organisms.’ Nalco spokesman Charlie Pajor said that oil mixed with Corexit is “more toxic to marine life, but less toxic to life along the shore and animals at the surface” because the dispersant allows the oil to stay submerged below the surface of the water. Corexit 9500 causes oil to form into small droplets in the water; fish may be harmed when they eat these droplets. According to its Material safety data sheet, Corexit may also bioaccumulate, remaining in the flesh and building up over time. Thus predators who eat smaller fish with the toxin in their systems may end up with much higher levels in their flesh.
A “presidential commission tasked with investigating the causes of the Deepwater Horizon accident” has determined that there wasn’t enough scientific evidence to guide governmental agencies in making their decisions to use dispersants. Via Science Now:
According to the working paper, a lack of studies on dispersant toxicity meant that the Coast Guard’s Thad Allen, EPA’s Lisa Jackson, and NOAA’s Jane Lubchenco were “seriously handicapped” when deciding whether the chemicals should be used. “Because federal agencies had failed to plan adequately, they did not possess the scientific information that officials most certainly would have wanted to guide their choices.” But the paper concludes that their decision to use dispersants was reasonable under the circumstances, noting that the trio quickly consulted with a group of 50 experts. So far, the use of dispersants appears to have had greater benefit than cost.
The appeal of dispersants is that they break up oil into small droplets, which are less harmful to birds and other wildlife. The droplets are also thought to break down faster. And releasing dispersants at the gushing wellhead was intended to help protect workers on the surface by reducing the amount of oil and associated volatile organic compounds. The problem was the lack of adequate toxicity data on the dispersants themselves. Officials didn’t know the possible impacts on marine life, given the hundreds of thousands of gallons being used over several months (more than 2.5 million in all). They also didn’t know the relative toxicity of the various dispersants.
The commission staff members also concluded that the lack of planning led to delays in response; according to interviews with Coast Guard responders, EPA field staff hadn’t been delegated the authority to grant permission for dispersants to be used and were inexperienced with dispersants, thus delaying the response. The Coast Guard sources also felt that “EPA scientists with such experience were not being adequately consulted in EPA’s decision-making process.”