Last Tuesday, June 8, a team of scientists confirmed what many of us suspect: Vast underwater concentrations of oil sprawling for miles in the Gulf of Mexico from the damaged, crude-belching BP PLC well are unprecedented in human history and threaten to wreak havoc on marine life. The scientists’ finding was confirmed for the first time by federal officials. As Paul Quinlan and Josh Voorhees of Greenwire report:
Researchers aboard the F.G. Walton Smith vessel…traced an underwater oil plume 15 miles wide, 3 miles long and about 600 feet thick…. “It’s an infusion of oil and gas unlike anything else that has ever been seen anywhere, certainly in human history,” said Samantha Joye of the University of Georgia, the expedition leader.
Bacteria are breaking down the oil’s hydrocarbons in a massive, microorganism feeding frenzy that has sent oxygen levels plunging close to what is considered “dead zone” conditions, at which most marine life are smothered for a lack of dissolved oxygen….
Less clear to researchers like Joye are what role the unprecedented deployment of oil-dispersing chemicals are having…on fisheries. “The primary producers — the base of the food web in the ocean — is going to be altered. There’s no doubt about that,” Joye said. “We have no idea what dispersants are going to do to microorganisms. We know they are toxic to many larvae….“
There are good reasons to be concerned about the dispersant Corexit that BP is using. Since the regular media (the supposedly conservative FoxNews included) are not doing their job, Fellowship of the Minds looked into the matter. The following is a Primer on Corexit. Sources used for this primer are identified at the end.
What is Corexit?
Corexit is a line of oil dispersants or solvents, originally developed by Exxon and now manufactured by Nalco Holding Company (NHC) of Naperville, IL. Interestingly, NHC is associated with Exxon and British Petroleum (BP) — the latter is the same company that insists on using Corexit.
An oil dispersant is basically a detergent, like your dishwashing detergent. It disperses or breaks up the oil film into small droplets that intermix with seawater.
There are at least four different formulations of Corexit:
- Corexit EC 7664A
- Corexit EC 9500A (aka Corexit 9500)
- Corexit 9527A
- Corexit EC 9580A
Corexit EC9500A is mainly comprised of hydrotreated light petroleum distillates, propylene glycol and a proprietary organic sulfonic acid salt. Propylene glycol is a chemical commonly used as a solvent or moisturizer in pharmaceuticals and cosmetics. An organic sulfonic acid salt is a synthetic chemical detergent, such as that used in laundry detergents, which acts as a surfactant to emulsify oil and allow its dispersion into water.
A variant of Corexit was used in the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster in Alaska. In the present Deepwater Horizon oil spill, BP is using unprecedentedly large quantities of Corexit EC9500A and Corexit EC9527A, applying 800,000 gallons total, but more accurate estimates run as high as 1,000,000 gallons underwater.
Is Corexit Effective?
Corexit 9500 was 54.7% effective and Corexit EC9527A was 63.4% effective in handling Louisiana crude oil. Corexit is not a very efficient oil dispersant; there are others that are better. (More below)
Is Corexit Safe to Use?
The short answer is “No!” Corexit is highly toxic to humans as well as marine life.
The federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has identified the 2-butoxyethanol in Corexit to be a causal agent in the health problems experienced by cleanup workers after the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill of respiratory, nervous system, liver, kidney and blood disorders. Read about Corexit from the EPA:
According to the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS), Corexit 9500‘s “potential human bazard is: High.” It can cause central nervous system depression; nausea; unconsciousness; liver, kidney damage; and red blood cell hemolysis with repeated or prolonged exposure through inhalation or ingestion.
Here is what the MSDS for Corexit EC9500A says about Accidental Release Measures:
PERSONAL PRECAUTIONS :
Restrict access to area as appropriate until clean-up operations are complete. Ensure clean-up is conducted by trained personnel only. Ventilate spill area if possible. Do not touch spilled material. Remove sources of ignition.
Stop or reduce any leaks if it is safe to do so. Have emergency equipment (for fires, spills, leaks, etc.) readily available. Use personal protective equipment recommended in Section 8 (Exposure Controls/Personal Protection). Notify appropriate government, occupational health and safety and environmental authorities.
RESPIRATORY PROTECTION :
If significant mists, vapors or aerosols are generated an approved respirator is recommended. An organic vapor cartridge with dust/mist prefilter or supplied air may be used. In event of emergency or planned entry into unknown concentrations a positive pressure, full-facepiece SCBA should be used. If respiratory protection is required, institute a complete respiratory protection program including selection, fit testing, training, maintenance and inspection.
HAND PROTECTION :
Nitrile gloves, Viton# gloves, Polyvinyl alcohol gloves
SKIN PROTECTION :
Wear impervious apron and boots.
EYE PROTECTION :
Wear chemical splash goggles.
HYGIENE RECOMMENDATIONS :
Keep an eye wash fountain available. Keep a safety shower available. If clothing is contaminated, remove clothing and thoroughly wash the affected area. Launder contaminated clothing before reuse.
On May 19, 2010 the EPA gave BP 24 hours to choose less toxic alternatives to Corexit, selected from the list of EPA-approved dispersants on the National Contingency Plan Product Schedule. BP was to begin applying the less toxic dispersants within 72 hours of EPA approval of their choices, but BP refused to change from Corexit, citing safety and availability concerns with alternatives.
According to the EPA, Corexit is more toxic than dispersants made by several competitors and less effective in handling southern Louisiana crude. Not only is Corexit toxic to human and marine life, it helps keep spilled oil submerged. The quantities used in the Gulf will create unprecedented underwater damage to organisms.
There are claims that Corexit is one of the most poisonous dispersants ever developed, that it is 4 times more toxic than crude oil, and 20 times more toxic than other dispersants, but only half as effective.
Is there a better alternative than Corexit?
There is an oil dispersant called Dispersit, manufactured by Polychem, a division of U.S. Polychemical Corporation. Dispersit is a much less harmful water-based product, with about one third of the toxicity that Corexit 9500 presents. Corexit 9500 is a harsh petroleum-based solvent which is dangerous to people and sea life. Dispersit’s human health effect is “slight to none.” Dispersit is also on the EPA’s approved list of dispersants.
Dispersit is also more effective than Corexit. Dispersit has a demonstrated effectiveness of 100% on the lighter South Louisiana crude, and 40% on Pruhoe Bay’s heavier crude. Exxon’s Corexit 9500 is just 55% effective on SL and 55% effective on PB. On an average, Dispersit is 70% effective, and may prove 100% effective, while Corexit 9500 is an average of 50% effective, with a maximum effective use of just 55%.
Bruce Gebhardt at Polychem Marine Products was asked if Dispersit was being used in the Gulf Oil Spill situation. “Very little,” he replied. When asked why, the impression was that the government had used Corexit 9500 in the past, and was going with what they know — no matter how dangerous that might prove to be.
Why does BP insist on using the highly toxic, less effective Corexit?
Why is Corexit 9500 is being used at all, when the water-based Dispersit is available, markedly more effective and less toxic? Follow the money.
Recall that earlier I had said that Corexit is manufactured by Nalco Holding Company (NHC), which is associated with BP. Rodney F. Chase, who sits on the board of Nalco, was also a BP board member. The likelihood that he still holds shares in both companies is very high. In fact, it was reported on May 3, 2010, that BP has acquired Nalco Holding’s entire inventory of its Corexit oil dispersant! Not surprisingly, NHC’s stock took a sharp jump, up more than 18% at its highest point of the day when it was announced that their product is the one BP will use in the Gulf.
NALCO Holding [Source]
But wait! It gets even better!
- Peter Sutherland, the Chairman of Goldman Sachs International, was also, until last year, the Chairman of BP! The same Goldman Sachs that sold $250 million of its BP stock right before the oil rig explosion/spill.
- BP and its folks were significant contributors to the record $750-million war chest of Obama’s 2007-08 campaign. In fact, Obama is the single largest individual recipient of BP PAC (Political Action Committee) contributions.
- Rahm Emanuel, Obama’s White House Chief-of-Staff, has lived in a rent-free apartment in D.C. for the past 5 years. The apartment is owned by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Connecticut) and her husband, Stanley Greenberg. Greenberg’s consulting firm was a prime architect of BP’s recent rebranding drive as a “green” petroleum company!
- In May 2009, Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway was the second-largest shareholder in Nalco, the producer of Corexit, with a little more than 6% of the shares.
There are experts who think that oil dispersants of whatever variety shouldn’t even be used in the Gulf.
Dispersing the oil neither eliminates it nor decreases its toxicity. All dispersants do is to break the oil into small particles, where it becomes less visible. But the oil’s still there, spewing toxicity at an even greater rate (due to higher surface area), except now it’s pretty much impossible to skim or trap or vacuum or even soak up the oil particles at the shoreline because most of it will never make it to the shoreline. Instead, the toxic crude oil AND the dispersant will be spread all over the ocean’s waters.
In effect, to “disperse” the oil means it will NEVER be cleaned up. It will just stay out there, polluting and poisoning the ocean and marine life, including the fish, shrimp, mollusk that we humans consume as food.
And if using oil dispersants is unwise, it is approaching madness to use a dispersant as toxic as Corexit. Add to the insane formula the fact the Corexit isn’t even a very effective dispersant, and we’re looking at avarice and mendacity on the part of BP at the level of true EVIL. As for the Obama administration, any government that tolerates such evil is, minimally, incompetent and, maximally, complicit in evil.
More alarming still is the opinion in some quarters that when the toxic Corexit 9500 is combined with the warm waters of the Gulf, much of it will transition into a gaseous state that will be absorbed into clouds, to be released as toxic rain upon all of the Eastern United States.
May God help us!
H/t Fellowship co-founder Steve and beloved member May.
“Corexit Is Killing The Gulf (Part I),” sitfu.com, May 29, 2010.
8ackgr0und N015e, “Important Primer on Corexit: Different Types and Hazards,” DailyKos, May 30, 2010.
“BP Embraces Exxon’s Toxic Dispersant, Ignores Safer Alternative,” Protect the Ocean.