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BP Gulf Disaster Act Two: The Corexit Calamity

RP Siegel | Wednesday July 28th, 2010 | 6 Comments

Now that BP’s spurting oil well in the Gulf of Mexico officially known as MC252 has apparently been shut in, and the relief well that will eventually reduce the pressure in the area, is almost done, it would be nice to think that the worst is over and all that remains now is the long, slow process of cleaning up the mess.

Unfortunately, due to some very poor judgment by the folks in charge, this is only the beginning of a nightmare that will continue to reveal its true magnitude over the weeks, months, and years to come.

(Video courtesy of Project Gulf Impact).

Back in mid-May, I posted this story after speaking to a couple of experts about the consequences of the spill. Both issued strong warning against the use of dispersants, not only in my column but also in the NY Times and on Huffington Post and elsewhere. Terry Hazen, a PhD micro-biologist at Lawrence Berkley Lab who has studied oil spills extensively, cited the example of the massive Amoco-Cadiz spill off the coast of France. Five years after the spill, the coastline had returned to normal in areas that had been left untreated. But 32 years later, the areas that had been treated with dispersants, at great expense, have yet to recover. Marine toxicologist, Riki Ott, author of “Not One Drop: Betrayal and Courage in the Wake of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill,” says that these harmful chemicals that can linger in the water for decades, are not adequately tested by the EPA. And although Corexit, the chemical in question,  is known to be a fetal toxin that damages blood cells and kidneys cells, causing black urine among workers that come in contact with it, the EPA, after having banned it, later lifted the ban, not based on any new data, but only after changes in personnel and policies.

Despite these urgent warnings, BP continued to administer Corexit, an oil-based, industrial strength solvent, often under the cover of darkness, to the point that some two million gallons have now been intentionally introduced into the teeming gulf waters, despite the fact that, as Ott has said, it is likely more toxic than the oil it was intended to control. Why so much dispersant? Because, says Ott, “it hides the oil. Oil fines are based on how much oil was spilled.” Just follow the money.

According to Chris Pincetich, a marine biologist and member of the Sea Turtle Restoration Project, the panel in charge of the cleanup used a cost-benefit analysis to determine whether or not Corexit should be used. That analysis assumed that Corexit was not toxic, based on the EPA test which only requires that embryonic fish survive in it for 96 hours. But Pincetich said that although the fish survived for three days, 90% were dead within two weeks.

Pincetich is concerned about the aerial spraying because of the tendency of the chemical to drift and evaporate in the warm southern air. Since no one knows what the real impact of these chemicals is, everyone in the region is part of a big experiment.

Riki Ott says that if her family lived along the Gulf Coast, based on what she has seen these past three months, she would evacuate them immediately. Her main priority right now, having seen cleanup workers with headaches, dizziness, sore throats, burning eyes, rashes and blisters that are so deep, they’re leaving scars– is to get respirators for all of them. She fears that numerous regions along the coast will become cancer clusters in twenty years. Water samples taken randomly along Alabama beaches had petroleum concentrations between 13 and 42 times the normal level. One sample, taken  on Dauphin Island, exploded during the test.

EPA whistleblower Hugh Kaufman says that the agency has been downplaying the threat to avoid creating a panic. That aligns well with what Riki Ott said the EPA chief Lisa Jackson told her, “I am walking a fine line between truth and hysteria. We don’t want to create a panic.” So, it appears that EPA is aiding and abetting BP in their attempt to cover-up the full extent of the damage.

The May article also discussed a Michigan Company Recovery I, that had developed a corncob-based absorbent, that is a very safe and effective alternative to dispersants. The company was recently certified as a vendor for the cleanup in Florida, which should provide an opportunity to demonstrate this, much safer approach to the key players.

RP Siegel, PE is co-author of the sustainability thriller Vapor Trails, about an oil spill and the man responsible.

Follow RP Siegel on Twitter.


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