It took a request filed under the Freedom of Information Act and a lawsuit, but the environmental law firm Earthjustice finally obtained a list of EPA-approved ingredients used in chemical oil dispersants, which BP used in massive quantities to break down its oil spill. The information generated a report called “The Chaos of Clean-up: Analysis of Potential Health and Environmental Impacts of Chemicals in Dispersant Products,” in which Earthjustice and Toxipedia Consulting Services detail the toxicity of the chemical dispersant ingredients. The report was funded by The Gulf Restoration Network and the Florida Wildlife Federation.
During the peak of the oil spill and after failed attempts to cap its runaway Macondo well, BP started spraying the growing spill with Corexit 9500 and 9527, oil dispersants produced by Nalco/Exxon. The goal was to break the oil down into small particles that microbes would consume and process.
BP workers also injected these chemicals into the oil column gushing from the well – a deep-sea application never studied or approved by the federal government. In the end, BP dumped nearly 2 million gallons of Corexit into the Gulf waters, even though nobody knew what effects such an unorthodox and unprecedented use of the chemicals would have upon marine ecology or even human health.
Within weeks, people who were exposed to Corexit reported debilitating health conditions. Dolphin deaths in the Gulf increased tenfold, and carcasses washing ashore displayed symptoms in line with Corexit toxicity.
According to the Earthjustice report, of the dispersant ingredients reported by the EPA:
• 5 chemicals are associated with cancer
• 33 chemicals are associated with skin irritation, from rashes to burns
• 33 chemicals are linked to eye irritation
• 11 chemicals are suspected or potential respiratory toxins or irritants
• 10 chemicals are suspected kidney toxins.
• 8 chemicals are suspected or known to be toxic to aquatic organisms
• 5 chemicals are suspected to have a moderate acute toxicity to fish
The report also says that Gulf residents and cleanup workers who reported being exposed to the chemical dispersants were afflicted with a range of ailments, including “breathing problems, coughing, headaches, memory loss, fatigue, rashes, gastrointestinal problems (that) match the symptoms of blood toxicity, neurotoxicity, adverse effects on the nervous and respiratory system, and skin irritation associated with exposure to the chemicals found in Corexit.
Dr. Michael Robichaux, a physician in Raceland, Louisiana, told Environment News Service (ENS) that he continues to see patients who suffer from injuries and illnesses believed to be caused by oil cleanup. “The illnesses we observed were quite unique and different from anything that I had ever witnessed before. Although there were scores of complaints early on, the main problems at this time are a loss of memory, seizure type problems, severe abdominal pain, fatigue, irritability and other neurological and endocrine manifestations,” he said.
Cyn Sarthou, executive director of the Gulf Restoration Network, told ENS that the government is not being forthright with the American people with its knowledge of chemical oil dispersants:
“Despite ongoing concerns from the public about the toxicity of listed dispersants and their impacts upon the environment, the EPA continues to protect the dispersant manufacturers, who want to keep the ingredients of their products secret.”