New concerns about dispersant BP used during Deepwater Horizon spill

Following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, British Petroleum (BP) purchased massive amounts of Corexit, a chemical dispersant that was supposed to help break up the oil to make the cleanup process easier.

At the time, many raised questions about the safety of the product, which is banned in Norway due to environmental concerns:

As you probably already guessed, BP went on the offensive to criticize anyone who dared suggest Corexit may be a problem. Chief Executive Bob Dudley dismissed concerns in a meeting with nervous shareholders:

“The toxicity of Corexit is about the same as dish soap, which is effectively what it is and how it works.”

BP Deepwater Horizon oil rig fire

BP Deepwater Horizon oil rig fire

Yes, the company that caused the horrible disaster, and that showed a distinct inability to fix their mistakes, were now the experts compared to actual experts, who were worried about the environmental impact of the chemicals.

The US EPA should have been more forceful though like most government departments (and politicians for that matter), they’re often afraid of confrontation with the corporate world. Whether it’s fear of immediate reprisals or fear of blocked job prospects (the revolving door), the EPA has not been clear on the impact of Corexit.

What is clear according to scientists are the serious problems in the Gulf of Mexico three years after Deepwater Horizon. Corexit has been described as “deodorized kerosene,” which is strongly linked to humans or animals that breathe air.

As long as none of us need to actually breathe air, we should be fine.

Even more troubling are the emerging problems with petroleum hydrocarbon (PHC) getting into the food system. Scientists are now finding unsafe levels of it in seafood, which can have health consequences for humans as well. Some scientists believe that Corexit contributed to this spike in PHC.

As if these problems weren’t enough, many residents along the coast are reporting sicknesses that otherwise can’t be explained. It would be to the benefit of these people to have a much more thorough investigation into these problems, but between the BP and Big Oil apologists in Congress, and a wobbly EPA, this sounds doubtful. If Congress can’t even address the problem of seniors being denied cancer treatment because of the sequester, it’s hard to see how they might take action here.

Though the problems are serious and unpleasant, you really want to read David Kirby’s article about the ongoing problems along the Gulf coast.


An American in Paris, France. BA in History & Political Science from Ohio State. Provided consulting services to US software startups, launching new business overseas that have both IPO’d and sold to well-known global software companies. Currently launching a new cloud-based startup. Full bio here.

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  • http://twitter.com/BillFromDover Bill from Dover

    Well hello… Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas have been leaching into this cesspool for for at least the last two centuries.

    What else would a rational being expect?

  • http://twitter.com/BillFromDover Bill from Dover

    I would say… both?

  • http://twitter.com/BillFromDover Bill from Dover

    Hey, wadda got against 5-eyed shrimp with brain lesions and holes throughout their bodies?

    I heard that these are a delicacy in Japan. Command big dollars!

  • RyansTake

    The corexit was never supposed to make the oil clean up easier. It was supposed to make it look as if the oil went poof, in fact making it more difficult to clean up by breaking down the oil into small enough pieces that traditional means of oil clean up wouldn’t work. It was purely for PR, because BP didn’t want another Exxon-Valdiz sized PR disaster from pictures and film… except, of course, the BP spill was infinitely bigger than Exxon and exacerbated by magnitudes because of the freaking corexit.

    And we knew all of this at the time, too. I bet BP knew it as well.

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    Now, a sniff dog I could support. Apparently they can detect the individual elements in a ‘gestalt ‘smell., and thus are able to detect drugs that have been disguised by other elements.

  • cole3244

    mother earth and all the other species will celebrate the day we (humans) are but a memory.

  • http://www.facebook.com/monoceros.forth Monoceros Forth

    The FDA’s claim smells (pun unintended). If they really claimed that a sniff test was sufficient I suspect the true reason wasn’t accuracy but speed, because even with modern instrumentation chemical tests take time. Far quicker to use someone’s nose.

  • http://www.facebook.com/monoceros.forth Monoceros Forth

    Ugh, Bhopal. I remember that too although I was a little too young and ignorant at the time fully to grasp the magnitude of the disaster. Only many years later did I learn the full enormity of Union Carbide’s criminality, both before the accident with their utter disregard for safety and after the accident with their craven determination to pin the blame for the accident on everybody (even nonexistent persons like their imaginary saboteur) except themselves. Utterly revolting.

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    In this tech age they are still using Bounty towels to mop up toxic spills! Ahhhhhhhgar

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    Over the sanctity of life itself. I still remember Bhopal.

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    When the FDA thinks a sniff test is scientific proof of toxicity, it’s over with. Reminds me of a fertilizer company that just blew up.

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    “they look at the exposure, potential lawsuit payments, and decide it is
    acceptable if xxxx die and xxxx are injured and it only affects profits
    by xxxx.” That’s exactly how Max Baucus and Obozo created Obama Care.

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    Within months Obama signed for more rigs with the faulty valves.

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    Next time I eat Étouffée and pick out the three headed, four tailed, three eyed shrimp I won’t worry a bit.

  • 1nancy2

    S Armageddon

  • lynchie

    The Rutherford river in New Jersey catches fire almost every year, no biggie it just burns off some of the contaminants don’t you know.

  • lynchie

    But BeccaM you don’t understand these are the job creators. Just wait for the XL pipeline (they created jobs) or the coverup in Arkansas with the spill there which has been granted media blackout, overfly restrictions, etc. Our government at all levels, federal, state and local are complicit in their actions to cover for the rich and there are no signs it will ever stop. These corporations are run by people who simply don’t give a shit if there is some collateral (who penned this word to substitute for innocent bystanders) damage. They have people who number crunch and they look at the exposure, potential lawsuit payments, and decide it is acceptable if xxxx die and xxxx are injured and it only affects profits by xxxx. The corporations long ago stopped caring what you and I want. They hire people who think the same way and turn their head but are happy to accept big bonuses and compensation. They in the last 5 years or so started hiring spokespeople who are female because the media won’t attack them as much and who if a little hot spark interest of the same reporters. My question is How do these people live with themselves, how does someone deny treatment to someone who is sick, or deny claims of damages by pollution or a death by an unsafe car or the like. These aren’t people, these are monsters who sacrifice lives for the almighty dollar.

  • Naja pallida

    The sad part is, the FDA claimed that smell tests were more consistently accurate than their chemical testing. Seems to me they should be improving their testing methods. Especially considering how many more spills we’re guaranteed to have the less oversight the oil companies get.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Marcus-Taylor/100002228477265 Marcus Taylor

    Years ago scientific authorities in Great Britain said that New Orleans and the Gulf would not be fit for human habitation for the next 20 years…… ya think?

  • condew

    I remember an article shortly after the Gulf spill about how seafood companies were hiring people to sniff the product, and if it smelled all right, it was good to go. I can just imagine how toxic something could be and still smell OK. So I rarely consume seafood anymore.

    If you consume a variety of foods, does this make you less safe because you get a little of every poison out there, or does it make you more safe because you don’t get any of those poisons in large quantities?

  • Sweetie

    They’re already selling the fresh water from the great lakes. Overpopulated desert areas “need” the water. Ohio is a fun place. Lake Erie will dry up and the aquifers will be contaminated by fracking. People’s water will once again be flammable. The thirteen fires on the Cuyahoga weren’t enough.

  • UncleBucky

    Oh, just watch this for a sec, as the intro rolls by (Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau)
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m1sCWzj0jas

    Or this: Monde du Silence:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3jH2QkP-Bvg

    Makes me wanna cry, contemplating all this….

  • Naja pallida

    I just deleted a post that said almost the exact same things. Dispersants aren’t a tool to clean up oil spills, they’re a public relations tool to make the damage be less visible.

    All I know is that, living in Texas, Gulf seafood is readily available, but I won’t touch it. Not that I’m a fan of seafood anyway. Too many problems with sustainability, toxicity, questionable supply, and governments that don’t give a shit about any of it.

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    I know what you mean. The oil didn’t just go away — it was hidden and simply made to seem not as bad. I remember reading how using dispersants was worse because normally the heavy gloppy oil will form into tar balls and stay in one place, eventually being buried.

    It’s like having a lump of nasty poison. If it stays in one place, it’s not so bad. Dissolve it in water or aerosolize it, and suddenly it can’t be avoided and is ingested by every living thing nearby.

    What gets me is again and again we have these incidents of gross criminal mismanagement leading to environmental and property damage, as well as human injuries and deaths, and nobody ever goes to prison. The West, Texas fertilizer plant. The BP oil gusher. That mine collapse not that long ago.

    Every one of those a preventable disaster.

  • caphillprof

    British Petroleum has been a problem since its inception. Certainly since the 1950s when it convinced the United States to overthrow Mossadegh in Iran. BP is a pariah and should be treated as such.

  • http://www.facebook.com/monoceros.forth Monoceros Forth

    In a sense, the toxicity of the dispersant itself is not the issue. The stuff could be as harmless as water and still be extremely dangerous because it increases the bioavailability of the petroleum which is itself toxic. Partly that’s the idea of using a dispersant, I guess; the hope is that the oil when dispersed into tiny droplets will be oxidized and consumed more quickly by microorganisms and so forth. But in that form it will also be more easily ingested by marine organisms and the fat-soluble and toxic organic compounds contained in the petroleum will more readily enter the food chain. And as we know well from many examples of pesticides and other chemicals with a high solubility in fats, these substances will “bioconcentrate” and appear in much greater concentrations in organisms higher up the food chain.

    We all knew from the start anyway that BP’s massive use of dispersants, injected straight into the stream of leaking petroleum deep underwater, weren’t meant to “clean up” the spill, they were meant to obscure its extent by breaking up the oil before it could gather at the surface and create a nasty-looking slick that would have been an immediate embarrassment.

  • cole3244

    the great capitalist agenda strikes again, bottom line over all things that are sacred (environment) and common sense.

  • 1nancy2

    S…..Yes..I agree 100%. The greedy, thieving 1% got their $’s worth…The 99% are kaput. The oceans will dry up and all w/in will die..Next, fresh water will follow suit, so yes. all people are f-ed. Yes sirrrrreee!

  • http://www.facebook.com/Delonjo1 Delonjo Barber

    But Obama told me that “oil doesn’t spill,” and I still believe him. If I still believe him, then what are you talking about?

  • Sweetie

    This world is utterly fucked. It’s only going to get worse.

    Humans are too irrational to manage themselves, let alone the biosphere.

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