Shrimpers who were exposed to a mixture of oil and Corexit dispersant in the Gulf of Mexico suffered severe symptoms such as muscle spasms, heart palpitations, headaches that last for weeks and bleeding from the rectum, according to a marine toxicologist who issued the warning Friday on a cable news network.
Dr. Susan Shaw, founder and director of the Marine Environmental Research Institute, said during a CNN broadcast that after personally diving the oil spill in late May, a “very fiery sore throat” plagued her from inhaling fumes coming off the water. Because she was covered from head to toe in a protective suit, Dr. Shaw was spared direct exposure.
Shrimpers who had bare-skin contact with the mixture of oil and Corexit, she said, were not so lucky.
During her segment with anchor Rick Sanchez, Dr. Shaw specified that stories shrimpers had told her were from when BP was deploying “the more toxic” Corexit 9527. BP has allegedly switched to Corexit 9500, which Dr. Shaw has also taken to task in a widely-publicized essay.
The company responsible for producing the various Corexit formulas is Nalco, Co., which was created by former members of the boards of directors at BP and Exxon. Their product is essentially by the oil industry, for the oil industry. That’s why, even in the face of an alternative like Dispersit which is half as toxic as Corexit, Nalco’s product is still in much greater supply.
Dr. Shaw offered a stark analysis of Corexit 9500 in her piece for The New York Times.
“Though all dispersants are potentially dangerous when applied in such volumes, Corexit  is particularly toxic,” she wrote. “It contains petroleum solvents and a chemical that, when ingested, ruptures red blood cells and causes internal bleeding. It is also bioaccumulative, meaning its concentration intensifies as it moves up the food chain.”
“BP refused an Environmental Protection Agency order in late MayÃ‚Â to significantly cut down its use of dispersants, as well as anotherÃ‚Â to find and use a less toxic substance than Corexit, saying that it ‘continues to believe that Corexit EC9500A is the best alternative’ available in the necessary amount,” a blog with the Natural Resources Defense Council noted.
The EPA lists Corexit 9500 as “useful on oil spills in salt water” and prescribes an application of “2 to 10 U.S. gallons per acre”. They further said in a media advisory that Corexit 9500 will “biodegrade.”
The EPA’s description is only slightly less enthusiastic than a list of Corexit talking points featured on Nalco’s Web site, which claims (among other things) …
*All of the ingredients contained in NalcoÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s dispersants are safe and found in common household products, such as food, packaging, cosmetics, and household cleaners.
*Individually and collectively the ingredients are safe when used as directed.
*Corexit is approved for use by the EPA because it falls well within the agencyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s range of allowable toxicity levels.
*Corexit products biodegrade rapidly, do not bioaccumulate, are not human carcinogens, do not degrade into endocrine disruptors, and are not reproductive toxins.
*This is 1/10th of 1 percent of the level of the product tested under EPA standards and a far lower level than the EPA allows in drinking water of several non-biodegradable elements that are highly toxic, carcinogenic, and/or reproductive toxins.
The portion about bioaccumulation and carcinogenic effect is interesting, considering Nalco’s own Dr. David Horsup stated in a media advisory that “additional testing” is needed in order to assess “biodegradation, bioaccumulation, carcinogenicity and effectiveness.”
Such conflicting statements would seem to undermine the company line.
“Yes, the dispersants have made for cleaner beaches,” Dr. Shaw wrote. “But theyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re not worth the destruction they cause at sea, far out of sight. It would be better to halt their use and just siphon and skim as much of the oil off the surface as we can. The Deepwater Horizon spill has done enough damage, without our adding to it.”
Speaking to CNN on Friday, her message was a bit more dire.
“It ruptures red blood cells, causes internal bleeding and liver and kidney damage,” Dr. Shaw said. “This stuff is so toxic — combined, it’s not the oil alone, it’s not the dispersant — the dispersed oil that still contains this stuff, it’s very, very toxic and it goes right through skin.”
The claims would seem to echo a fellow toxicologist who described the effects of Corexit as the disruption of oil bilipid layers, which he called “the very basis of life.”
“Each of us is made out of cells,” Dr. Chris Pincetich explained in a recent interview. “Those cells are nothing more than an oil layer surrounding our proteins and RNA and all the other molecules 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.”
Mixed with toxic compounds leached from crude oil, said “umpteen effects” are completely unknown at this point, with Dr. Shaw’s statements being among the first reports on the dire health effects of dispersed oil exposure.
None of the most recent news bodes well for U.S. residents anywhere near the Gulf dcoast. Some reports have suggested that new chemical compounds formed in the Gulf’s hot, salty summer waters are evaporating and potentially returning in rains across the south-eastern U.S. There’s also the case of an amateur video shot in Louisiana after a heavy rain, in which the videographer claims to be witnessing an oil sheen on almost all surfaces touched by the condensation.
While the claim of oil rain was not confirmed, it still caused a significant stir online. Crude oil cannot evaporate, but there are legitimate fears that some of the lighter oil or compounds leached out of it and significantly thinned by Corexit, may have come aground in condensation. It is also possible that a strong storm or water-spout at sea simply picked up a volume of oily mixture and deposited it across an area of land, but the odds of that are small.
Along that same line, a million different and horrifying scenarios exist if a hurricane plows through the ever-growing volume of oil and spreads untold gallons across miles of populated American soil.
While no government agency has made such an announcement, considering the recently available, credible analysis, coastal residents within several miles of the Gulf would be well advised to take note, at the very least, of their exposure to sea spray, which may be carrying a higher content of toxic chemicals than normal.
This video was broadcast by CNN on Friday, July 9, 2010.