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Corexit

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Corexit is an EPA approved oil dispersant[1] that is banned in the U.K. but used extensively by BP its 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil disaster. [2] Corexit was also used in the Exxon Valdez spill and was later linked to health problems including respiratory, nervous system, liver, kidney, and blood disorders. [3] One Corexit product contains a compound that in high doses is associated with headaches, vomiting, and reproductive illnesses. Id.[4] Clean-up workers in the Exxon Valdez disaster reported blood in their urine and kidney and liver disorders.[5] EPA data also shows that Corexit is far more toxic and far less effective than other approved dispersants.[6]

BP has defended its use of Corexit, spokesman Jon Pack claiming it is "pretty effective."[7] Pack has also said, "I'm not sure about the others." Id.[8] BP's defense of Corexit breaks down when scrutinized, as shown by U.S. Congressman Jerrold Nadler of New York's questioning of BP's dispersant use. He questioned BP American Chairman Lamar MacKay regarding Corexit at a congressional hearing on May 19th, 2010:


Congressman Nadler Calls Out Corexit & BP

Nadler asked why Corexit was chosen when it is clearly less effective and more toxic than other dispersants available, other than BP's corporate relations with the manufacturer.[Id.] MacKay's answer did not allay concerns. BP's main reason for continuing to use Corexit appears to be its close ties to the manufacturer.[9]

Congressman Nadler, an outspoken critic of the use of dispersants, called upon the EPA to stop BP's use of dispersants in the Gulf of Mexico on May 24th, 2010.[10] The video of his statement may be found here (embedding disabled). He states that BP is treating chemical with chemicals that does not not treat the problem but only shifts the toxicity to a different part of the ecosystem, ultimately endangering human lives. Id. He calls the clean-up an uncontrolled experiment that will affect all human and marine life in the region which could result in thousands dying in the clean-up, not the oil spill disaster itself. Id.

Initially, the EPA did not take a stance on which dispersant BP should use; Lisa Jackson, administrator of the EPA was quoted as saying "...if it's on the list and they want to use it, then they are preauthorized to do so."[11] Subsequently, the EPA asked BP to scale back its use of Corexit.[12] EPA gave BP the choice of either using an alternative dispersant or giving reasons as to why available alternatives were worse than Corexit; BP took the latter choice and stayed with Corexit. Id.[13] Subsequently, the EPA asked BP to scale back its use of Corexit.[14] Former EPA Administrator and current assistant to the President on energy and climate change, Carol M. Browner also asserted that the dispersants were safe and supported BP's continued use of Corexit.[15]

Clean-up efforts already resulting in human illness

Stories of illness are already emerging from oil spill workers. Seven workers were hospitalized Wednesday, May 26th, 2010, complaining of nausea, dizziness, and headaches.[16] Some of the first responders who have been tasked to help clean up the oil are reporting symptoms of disorientation, shortness of breath, coughing, a feeling of being drugged, and fatigue.[17] For example, one reported feeling as though he was going to die and has been "coughing up stuff because your lungs fill up." Id.[18] Marine toxicologist Riki Ott has said the chemicals used by BP can "wreck havoc" on a person's body and even lead to death. Id.[19] Senior policy analyst of the EPA, Hugh Kaufman likens the situation to previous toxic waste disasters, such as the World Trade Center and the Exxon Valdez clean-up: "There's no way you can be working in that toxic soup with getting exposures." Id.[20] Riki Ott also finds the situation reminiscent of the Exxon Valdez disaster, where the clean-up response resulted in thousands of sick workers. OSHA requires BP to provide fitted respirators[21], but these regulations go unenforced and workers in the Gulf are cleaning up the oil without even the protection of basic gloves.[22] The vice-president of the Louisiana Shrimper's Association is demanding respirators for all fishermen, stating the dispersant is poisoning the clean-up workers.[23]

Riki Ott is calling the current situation a disaster; fishermen are falling ill but not asking for necessary protection in fear of jeopardizing their jobs.[24] Gary Burris, a fisherman who is part of the clean-up force, stated many fishermen are working sick, afraid to speak out because it could cost them their job with BP, the only income they have now because of the oil spill.[25]

Corexit 9527A Human Health Warnings

According to an EPA website, humans should take the following precautions when dealing with Corexit 9527A:[26]

  • Ventilation: "Avoid prolonged breathing of vapors. Use with ventilation equal to unobstructed outdoors in moderate breeze."
  • Skin and eye contact; protective clothing; treatment in case of contact: "Avoid eye contact. In case of eye contact, immediately flush eyes with large amounts of water for at least 15 minutes. Get prompt medical attention. Avoid contact with skin and clothing. In case of skin contact, immediately flush with large amounts of water, and soap if available. Remove contaminated clothing, including shoes, after flushing has begun. If irritation persists, seek medical attention. For open systems where contact is likely, wear long sleeve shirt, chemical resistant gloves, and chemical protective goggles."

The MSDS for Corexit 9527A states that the product's rating as a human health hazard is "High." In addition it states: "Eye and skin irritant. Repeated or excessive exposure to butoxyethanol may cause injury to red blood cells (hemolysis), kidney or the liver. Harmful by inhalation, in contact with skin and if swallowed. Do not get in eyes, on skin, on clothing. Do not take internally. Use with adequate ventilation. Wear suitable protective clothing. Keep container tightly closed. Flush affected area with water."

and:

"The principal health effects following acute exposure to 2-butoxyethanol are irritation of the eyes and respiratory tract. 2-butoxyethanol is readily absorbed through the skin. In laboratory animals exposed to 2-butoxyethanol via inhalation, blood(hemolysis) and secondary effects on the kidney and liver have been observed. When 2-butoxyethaol is ingested it is metabolized to butoxyacetic acid (BAA), which can cause hemolysis. BAA is rapidly excreted in urine in animals and humans with an urinary excretion half-life of approximately 3-6 hours in humans. Human red blood cells have been shown to be significantly less sensitive to hemolysis than those of rodents and rabbits. These effects are transient and when exposure is discontinued, these effects subside. 2-butoxyethanol does not cause adverse reproductive or birth effects in animals, unless exposures occur at levels high enough to induce significant maternal toxicity."

Corexit 9500 Human Health Warnings

The MSDS for Corexit 9500 states that "No toxicity studies have been conducted on this product" but then defines the product as a "Moderate" human health hazard. Additionally, it advises: "Do not get in eyes, on skin, on clothing. Do not take internally. Avoid breathing vapor. Use with adequate ventilation. In case of contact with eyes, rinse immediately with plenty of water and seek medical advice. After contact with skin, wash immediately with plenty of soap and water. Wear suitable protective clothing."

Articles and resources

Related SourceWatch articles

References

  1. None given, "National Contingency Plan Product Schedule," EPA Website, May 26, 2010.
  2. Edward Markey, "Letter About Disperants From Rep. Markey to EPA," ProPublica, May 17, 2010.
  3. Marian Wang, "In Gulf Spill, BP Using Dispersants Banned in U.K.," ProPublica, May 18, 2010.
  4. Marian Wang, "In Gulf Spill, BP Using Dispersants Banned in U.K.," ProPublica, May 18, 2010.
  5. Paul Quinlan, "Less Toxic Dispersants Lose Out in BP Oil Spill Cleanup," The New York Times, January 22, 2006.
  6. None given, "National Contingency Plan Product Schedule Toxicity and Effectiveness Summaries," EPA, May 26, 2010.
  7. Paul Quinlan, "Less Toxic Dispersants Lose Out in BP Oil Spill Cleanup," The New York Times, January 22, 2006.
  8. Paul Quinlan, "Less Toxic Dispersants Lose Out in BP Oil Spill Cleanup," The New York Times, January 22, 2006.
  9. Paul Quinlan, "Less Toxic Dispersants Lose Out in BP Oil Spill Cleanup," The New York Times, January 22, 2006.
  10. Jerrold Nadler, "Nadler Calls on EPA to Halt Use of All Toxic Dispersants in the Gulf of Mexico," Jerrold Nadler official website, May 24, 2010.
  11. Paul Quinlan, "Less Toxic Dispersants Lose Out in BP Oil Spill Cleanup," The New York Times, January 22, 2006.
  12. Elisabeth Rosenthal, "In Standoff With Environmental Officials, BP Stays With an Oil Spill Dispersant," New York Times, May 24, 2010.
  13. Paul Quinlan, "Less Toxic Dispersants Lose Out in BP Oil Spill Cleanup," The New York Times, January 22, 2006.
  14. Elisabeth Rosenthal, "In Standoff With Environmental Officials, BP Stays With an Oil Spill Dispersant," New York Times, May 24, 2010.
  15. "Transcript of American Morning," CNN, May 25, 2010.
  16. Rob Stein, "Illnesses among workers highlight concerns about health risks of oil cleanup," The Washington Post, May 27, 2010.
  17. "Fishermen Report Illness From BP Chemicals," WSDU, May 19, 2010.
  18. "Fishermen Report Illness From BP Chemicals," WSDU, May 19, 2010.
  19. "Fishermen Report Illness From BP Chemicals," WSDU, May 19, 2010.
  20. "Fishermen Report Illness From BP Chemicals," WSDU, May 19, 2010.
  21. "Regulations 1910.134," OSHA.
  22. Gina Solomon, "Oil Spill Clean-Up Workers Getting Sick," The Huffington Post, May 28, 2010.
  23. "Official: Protect Health Of Louisiana's Fishermen," WDSU, May 27, 2010.
  24. Riki Ott, "Human Health Tragedy in the Making: Gulf Response Failing to Protect People," Huffington Post, May 19, 2010.
  25. "Fishermen Report Illness From BP Chemicals," WDSU, May 19, 2010.
  26. Corexit EC9527A, Accessed August 7, 2010

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