Monday, March 14, 2011

Could illnesses be linked to BP oil spill?


It contains chemicals that are known to be toxic to animals. It was released in copious amounts. It leaves a foam footprint. It is banned in the United Kingdom. And most importantly from BP's perspective, it sank the slick.

It is Corexit, and more than 1.8 million gallons of the chemical dispersant were used to combat the estimated 150 million gallons of oil that gushed from the Macondo Prospect well after the fatal Deepwater Horizon explosion.

Nalco Holding Company, a Naperville, Ill., chemical company that typically focuses on treating and processing water that comes with the production of crude oil, manufactures the oil slick dispersant.

As a stand-alone chemical, its purpose is to break down the volume of crude oil patches into "discrete droplets" that sink beneath the surface and are presented as food for the oft-hailed microbial bacteria to ingest.

Scientists have disputed this and said Corexit has instead laced the oil with toxins that microbes will not eat, dragged and trapped it throughout the Gulf's water columns and inflicted damage to the ecosystem.

In response to the oil spill, BP initially sprayed two versions of Corexit. The first version, Corexit 9527A, was also used in response to the 111-million-gallon Exxon-Valdeez spill in 1989. It contains 2-butoxyethanol, a hazardous substance that "may be toxic to blood, liver, kidneys, central nervous system," according to its material safety data sheet.

Exxon produced Corexit 9527 and introduced it in 1972 as the first "self-mix concentrate" and the first aircraft-applied dispersant, according to "History of Dispersant Development: A Dispersant Timeline," penned by an investigating officer and pollution investigator with the Coast Guard and published in 2005.

The Deepwater Horizon Joint Information Center (JIC) did not respond to an e-mailed list of questions asking for the date each version of the dispersant was stopped, whether or not there is any chance the dispersant is still being applied in the Gulf and the official total for the amount of Corexit dispersed during the spill response.

The JIC has said in the past that the spraying of Corexit 9500A - the second and reportedly more voluminous dispersant used in the response efforts - was halted on July 19, 2010.

Some of Corexit's critics charge an incestuous relationship between Nalco and big oil companies as a potential reason the dispersant was given exclusive clean-up duties, pointing out that both Exxon and BP have former executives who serve on Nalco's board of directors.

Rodney F. Chase, who was group chief executive and managing director of BP from 1992 to 2003, currently serves as the chairman of Nalco's Audit Committee.

Daniel S. Sanders, who retired in 2004 as president of ExxonMobil Chemical Company, is chairman of Nalco's Nominating and Corporate Governance Committee.

The Environmental Protection Agency presented BP with a list of seven alternative dispersants to Corexit 9500A in May of last year, but the company opted to stay with Corexit.

According to toxicity tests of the eight dispersants on standard Gulf of Mexico test species, the mysid shrimp and silverside fish, none of the dispersants tested - including Corexit 9500 A - "displayed biologically significant endocrine disrupting activity," Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson said in her July 15, 2010, testimony before Congress.

The results are available on the EPA website.

Jackson also said in her testimony that response tools on the National Contingency Plan (NCP) Product Schedule are available for deployment by Federal On-Scene Coordinators, who are provided by the Coast Guard.

"If the application of a product is pre-authorized by the [Regional Response Team], then the [Federal On-Scene Coordinator] may decide to use the product in a particular response," Jackson said in the testimony. "If the product application does not have pre-authorization from the RRT, then the FOSC must obtain concurrence from the EPA representative and the representatives of states with jurisdiction over the navigable waters under threat."

Steven Pedigo is the chairman and CEO of Oil Spill Eater International and the inventor of Oil Spill Eater II (OSE II), a product he claims to be a superior cleaning agent that uses bioremediation of oil into CO2 and water rather than dispersing it.

Pedigo said it is the pre-authorization process that has thus far prevented his product from being applied the spill response. "There are a lot of products on the NCP list; none of them got used on this spill, and the reason is they weren't pre-approved," Pedigo said. "But the federal government would not allow anything to be pre-approved but Exxon's product Corexit."

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