Human “Experiment” in the Gulf


Look, it’s just a basic question: How much should we know about a chemical before we test it on human beings?

If the answer is “not much or nothing” then BP’s use of dispersants is okay. If you find that flexibility borders on atrocity, then you share my concern with this situation – and with expanding the number of humans involved in this “experiment.”

In a society that has traditionally balked at conducting chemical tests on human beings, we should know better than to let politics and very short-term economic interests drive these decisions. And anyone doubting how little we know has not been reading mainstream media coverage like this weekend’s LA Times report that takes an in-depth view on how we don’t know about dispersants.

In her report, LA Times reporter Amina Khan writes that: “In the wake of the BP oil spill, gaping questions remain about a key tool used during cleanup: the nearly 2 million gallons of chemical dispersants sprayed over the water or onto the gushing wellhead on the seafloor. Do the chemicals help recovery, hinder it – or neither?”

And forget knowing anything about human effects, we don’t have a clue what happens to marine life. The Times also notes that: “…despite more than half a century of dispersant use in oil spill cleanups, the long-term effects that dispersants or dispersant-treated oil have on marine life remain as opaque as a layer of crude. Scientists say they still don’t know whether dispersants truly enable bacteria to digest spilled oil more quickly or whether dispersed oil is safer for marine life than untreated slicks.”

It’s just staggering. But it’s not enough to just say “we don’t know.” We have to realize that the human sampling population is rapidly expanding. Researchers, including friends and colleagues of mine, are discovering both oil and dispersant all over the Gulf. And as seafood from these areas goes to the market, more and more people join this massive human experiment.

Why do many professional fishermen express concern about the seafood? Because they know that, as bad as the spill is, even one person getting sick from the oil or dispersants sets us back a decade or more.

The story mostly features dueling scientists, but among the most interesting is a comprehensive 2005 review of dispersants by the National Research Council, written by 12 NRC researchers. That review concluded that: “there is no conclusive evidence demonstrating either the enhancement or the inhibition of microbial biodegradation when dispersants are used.”

The implication is clear: Now the research is taking place in real time – on real people.

Read LA Times piece here:,0,6506539.story

© Smith Stag, LLC 2010 – All Rights Reserved

1 comment

  • The problem is we are all getting sick, most,like no insurance so heavy metal tests are not done and when we called the bp nurse she just cataloged symptoms and address and told us to go to our doctors even when we told her we could not afford to go then she said go to the e. r. and they would bill bp, only no one seams to be telling the e.rpeople, and our e.r. here in fort walton won’t even see people.

Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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