A marine biologist working with a group of environmentalists to save sea turtles claims the U.S. Coast Guard is involved in spraying a toxic chemical dispersant over the Gulf of Mexico; and he says it has already traveled inland.
“Do I think there’s dispersants coming in and mixing with our everyday lives?” Dr. Chris Pincetich asked, speaking with a group of activists.
“Absolutely,” he pronounced.
Video of the interview quickly made its way to the Internet, where it has sparked renewed concern about the oil dispersant substance Corexit, being sprayed over the Gulf of Mexico in the wake of the worst environmental accident in human history. Up until last week that dubious distinction was held by the Ixtoc underwater well disaster in 1979.
BP, the oil company responsible for a broken deep-water well that has been gushing oil and gas unabated since April 22, has been dumping massive amounts of the chemical stock ever since the disaster began as a way of keeping the oil off the water’s surface. Thinned by dispersant, the oil mixes with the water column and forms underwater plumes that are less likely to wash ashore or be measured by satellite photography.
After initially approving Corexit, the U.S Environmental Protection Agency retracted its allowance and ordered BP to stop dumping theÃ‚Â chemical substance by Sunday, May 23. BP ignored the order, as it had purchased more than a third of the world’s supply of Corexit. Nalco Co., formed in-part by a longtime member of BP’s board of directors, is in process of mass producing more in Sugarland, Texas.
The EPA followed up on May 26 by ordering BP to reduce the volume of Corexit output by 75 percent. Again, BP did not comply, according to CNN.
“Before May 26, BP used 25,689 gallons a day of the chemical dispersant Corexit,” the network reported on July 2. “Since then, CNN’s analysis shows, the daily average of dispersant use has dropped to 23,250 gallons a day, a 9 percent decline.”
The EPA’s Web site claims the agency and the Coast Guard are tightly monitoring BP’s use of Corexit; it does not say that the Coast Guard is actively participating in the deployment thereof.
“The Federal Government reserves the right to discontinue the use of this dispersant method if negative impacts on the environment outweigh the benefits, and the Coast GuardÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Federal On-Scene Coordinator has the authority to make daily decisions regarding any request by BP to adjust the use of dispersant,” the agency declared, even after its own orders were so obviously ignored.
“The exact makeup of [Corexit] is kept secret under competitive trade laws, but a worker safety sheet for one product, called Corexit, says it includes 2-butoxyethanol, a compound associated with headaches, vomiting and reproductive problems at high doses,”Ã‚Â Pro Publica noted.
However,Ã‚Â Fast Company magazine added: “in a statement to the Gulf Oil Disaster Recovery Group, toxicology expert Dr. William Sawyer elaborated on the risks associated with Corexit. According to Sawyer, Corexit is also known as deodorized kerosene–a substance with health risks to humans as well as sea turtles, dolphins, breathing reptiles, birds, and any species that need to surface for air exchanges.”
Breathing dispersant fumes is what’s thought to have sickened and number of spill response workers. Crew members aboard three separate vessels “reported experiencing nausea, dizziness, headaches and chest pains,” according to the Coast Guard. Instead of ensuring workers had adequate access to respirators, BP CEO Tony Hayward claimed workers had fallen ill from food poisoning. Fishermen who’ve since joined the cleanup effort have been discouraged from wearing proper breathing equipment, allegedly because BP wants to stem the tide of “hysteria” over the disaster.
The chairman of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary Advisory Council called Corexit “worse than oil.” However,Ã‚Â at the end of June the EPA concluded a round of testing on the substance and declared Corexit to be “slightly toxic,” but actually not worse than oil.
Lab workers determined what concentration of dispersant was needed to kill half the fish or half the shrimp in the sample, measured in parts per million, and then classified the products in rather broad categories. Corexit, which becomes lethal to half the shrimp or fish at 130 parts per million, was labeled Ã¢â‚¬Å“practically nontoxic,Ã¢â‚¬Â and dispersants that killed half the shrimp or fish in concentrations between 19 and 55 parts per million were labeled Ã¢â‚¬Å“slightly toxic.Ã¢â‚¬Â The worst-ranking, Dispersit SPC 1000, killed half the aquatic life at 2.9 parts per million and was classed as Ã¢â‚¬Å“moderately toxic.Ã¢â‚¬â„¢Ã¢â‚¬â„¢
Corexit 9500 is a solvent originally developed by Exxon and now manufactured by the Nalco of Naperville, Illinois (who by the way justÃ‚Â hired some expensive lobbyists). Corexit is is four times more toxic than oil (oil is toxic at 11 ppm (parts per million), Corexit 9500 at only 2.61ppm).
In a report written by Anita George-Ares and James R. Clark for Exxon Biomedical Sciences, Inc. titledÃ‚Â “Acute Aquatic Toxicity of Three Corexit Products: An Overview” Corexit 9500 was found to be one of the most toxic dispersal agents ever developed.
The substance is thought to become even more toxic when mixed with salty, oily water at high temperatures, such as those found on the Gulf’s surface in the middle of summer.
Likewise, Dr. Pincetich argued that his background in toxicology and testing pesticides on marine life gives him a unique perspective on the EPA’s measurement process.
“People need to realize that their water, their air, the sand they’re walking on, the things they’re touching when they wake up in the morning — are coated with this stuff,” he said. “If you see it in a high concentration, it looks like radiator fluid. It is not a pretty sight. The stuff is toxic. The tests say ‘no effect’. I can tell you from managing those tests as a professional that you need to know exactly what test gave you what effect that you tested. So, if it was no effect on the survival of seven days of the fish, what happened to that fish at 10 days? That was my doctoral thesis.”
He continued: “The pesticides that killed no fish at 96 hours, which is the EPA deadline — 90 percent of them died two weeks later. These were embryonic salmon. There are a lot of chemical effects that are not being measured by the standard EPA tests.”
Pincetich specifically cautioned that no matter how carefully Corexit is sprayed, the chemicals will always drift inland, or simply evaporate and return in condensation.
“[Corexit] basically disrupts the natural ability of oil to bond with itself,” he said. “Oil bilipid layers next to each other are the very basis of life. Each of us is made out of cells. Those cells are nothing more than an oil layer surrounding ourÃ‚Â proteinsÃ‚Â and RNA and all the otherÃ‚Â moleculesÃ‚Â talking to each other. You put in a chemical that disrupts that basic biological structure and you are putting yourself at risk from umpteen effects.”
The Coast Guard has banned reporters from getting near oil spill sites: a move that’s been called an assault on the First Amendment. If indeed the guard is actively assisting BP in violating the EPA’s order to significantly reduce Corexit output — and if they’ve begun taking up night-time spraying missions on the company’s behalf, as Dr. Pincetich claims — then their reasons for shutting out the media become much easier to assume.
Dreadful as it sounds, the scenario would seem to lead reasonable observers in wondering why a foreign corporation is directing a branch of America’s military.
Salon writer Glenn Greenwald opined similarly in a recent slight to what he called the “BP/Government police state,” saying: “The very idea that government officials are acting as agents of BP (of all companies) in what clearly seem to be unconstitutional acts to intimidate and impede the media is infuriating. Obviously, the U.S. Government and BP share the same interest — preventing the public from knowing the magnitude of the spill and the inadequacy of the clean-up efforts — but this creepy police state behavior is intolerable.”
This video was published to YouTube by Project Gulf Impact on July 4, 2010.
Updated with information on Nalco, Co. and the Ixtoc oil disaster.
Correction: Nalco, Co. released a list of Corexit’s chemical components in May, after intense public pressure over its use in the Gulf. The list had been a closely-held corporate secret up until that point. The company still has yet to publicly disclose the concentrations of each ingredient, but has allegedly shared this information with the EPA.