Is a little-seen academic paper the smoking gun that blows the lid off the growing Corexit scandal in the Gulf of Mexico? You’ll recall that Corexit is the brand name of the oil dispersant manufactured by Illinois-based Nalco and deployed heavily by BP in the first couple of months of 2010’s Deepwater Horizon spill. In fact, with the acquiesence of the federal government, the oil giant used an unheard-of amount of Corexit — roughly 1.8 million gallons. On one level, the “dispersant” did its job — keeping much of the whopping 5 million barrels of crude oil spewing forth from the damaged rig off the surface, where it would have been seen by the media and an increasingly enraged American public.
But it was a terrible idea — the oil was dispersed but it didn’t go away; some of it coated the sea floor, out of sight but causing environmental harm, and much of the rest was dissolved in the water yet remained a health hazard to marine life and to humans. What’s worse, as we have increasingly learned, is that Nalco’s Corexit was — in and of itself — highly toxic. Last week, I told you about a new report in which whistleblowers revealed to the independent Government Accountability Project (GAP) that Nalco had given elaborate instructions to BP about using Corexit and avoiding contact with human clean-up workers — instructions that were clearly ignored during the spring of 2010.
This week, I was sent an academic paper that was published last year in the scientific journal Toxicity in Vitro. In the paper, four researchers from New Orleans’ Tulane University — three of them affiliated with the Department of Global Environmental Health Science — looked more closely at what happened with the two different versions of Corexit that were deployed in the Gulf after it was mixed with oil and created airborne fumes. In particular, they wanted to learn about the biological effects of breathing the air after the dispersant has been sprayed on an active oil spill.
Their findings — which you can read here — are disturbing. They establish a scientific link between the use of Corexit and lung epithelial cell death. In layman’s term, breathing Corexit — in the manner of many workers who were sent out into the Gulf in 2010 to clean up the oil spill without the proper protective clothing or respiratory apparatus — leads to serious risk of lung damage.
This paper really drives home the scandal that we have seen explode in recent days, coinciding with the grim third anniversary of the spill. There is growing awareness of a connection between Corexit and many of the abnormalities that we increasingly see here on the Gulf Coast, from once healthy seafaring people now coughing up blood or experiencing breathing problems, to vanishing seafood catches and fallow oyster beds. This weekend, CNN placed its own probe at the top of its website — here’s an excerpt:
“Since the spill, my shrimp production is off between 40 and 60% for the two years that I did work full time,” said Barisich, who has both a shrimp boat and an oyster boat tied up at Yscloskey. “But my price is off another 50%, and my fuel is high: 60 cents a gallon higher than it’s ever been.”
Figures from Louisiana’s Department of Wildlife and Fisheries tell a similar story.
The statewide oyster catch since 2010 is down 27% from the average haul between 2002 and 2009, according to catch statistics from the agency. In the Pontchartrain Basin, where Encalade and Barisich both work, the post-spill average fell to about a third of the pre-spill catch.
Barisich says oysters are barely worth the effort anymore. “On the state ground — on a perfect weather day, keep that in mind — it’s 20 sacks a day,” he said. “Twenty sacks a day at $30 a sack is $600. $300 worth of fuel. $100 worth of other expenses and I pay the deckhand, I got $150 a day on a perfect day. It don’t pay to go out.”
This is tragic. And we don’t really know yet why all this is happening, how much of this is from exposure to crude oil or from the dispersant, or when the environmental degradation of the Gulf will finally hit rock bottom. But we are grateful to scientists who are now providing us with important leads to follow. And increasingly, those leads are taking us back to the indiscriminate, and poorly thought out, use of Corexit.
To read the Toxicity in Vitro report on the link between dispersants and lung damage, please read: https://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&pid=gmail&attid=0.1&thid=13e5b2636f3ed9cb&mt=application/pdf&url=https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/?ui%3D2%26ik%3Dc510b69e4c%26view%3Datt%26th%3D13e5b2636f3ed9cb%26attid%3D0.1%26disp%3Dsafe%26zw&sig=AHIEtbSilfYg93ktTwhlAm1o8MXshGu0Aw
Read the CNN.com article about vanishing marine life at: http://www.cnn.com/2013/04/27/us/gulf-disaster-fishing-industry/index.html?hpt=hp_bn1
Check out my April 20 blog post on the health risks of Corexit at: http://www.stuarthsmith.com/3-year-anniversary-bombshell-whistleblower-says-bp-covered-up-health-risks-of-corexit/
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