The chemical dispersants being used to break up the oil leaking into the gulf following the explosion of British Petroleum’s Deepwater Horizon offshore oil rig have the potential to cause just as much, if not more, harm to the environment and the humans coming into contact with it than the oil possibly would if left untreated.
That is the warning of toxicology experts, led by Dr. Wiliiam Sawyer, addressing a team of independent lawyers working to protect the rights and interests of environmental groups and persons affected by the Deepwater Horizon disaster. The team of independent lawyers represents the United Commercial Fisherman’s Association and the Louisiana Environmental Action Network (LEAN), among others.
Various publications from the National Academy of Sciences and the National Research Council show that baseline data on the environmental and ecologic fate of petroleum spills and their effects in the marine environment is substantially deficient, said Dr. Sawyer. The lack of substantial research in these areas makes many of the decision-making processes pertaining to successful major spill containment and remediation rife with speculation.
The ongoing discharge of petroleum from the BP site, with a concurrent substantial use of surface and deep-water dispersants, demonstrates an environmental release of toxicants into the marine, marsh and beach environments in an unprecedented way, said Stuart Smith, of Smith Stag, LLC. Mr. Smith was the first to challenge British Petroleum on the failure of its cofferdam cap on the DEEPWATER HORIZON and has won two successful injunctions requiring British Petroleum to respect fishermen’s legal rights and protect their health in all areas impacted by the Gulf oil spill.
“The dispersants used in the BP clean-up efforts, known as ‘Corexit 9500’ and ‘Corexit EC9527A,’ are also known as deodorized kerosene,” said Dr. Sawyer. “With respect to marine toxicity and potential human health risks, studies of kerosene exposures strongly indicate potential health risks to volunteers, workers, sea turtles, dolphins, breathing reptiles and all species which need to surface for air exchanges, as well as birds and all other mammals. Additionally, I have considered marine species which surface for atmospheric inhalation such as sea turtles, dolphins and other species which are especially vulnerable to aspiration toxicity of ‘Corexit 9500′ into the lung while surfacing.”
The “Corexit 9500” dispersant is designed to breakup the slick at the water’s surface, sending the oil into the water column, and from there, to the bottom of the seabed where bottom residing organisms such as shrimp, crabs and oysters reside. One concern with the usage of such dispersants is that, aside from being themselves toxic, they do little more than hide the problem, said Mr. Smith. Many leading experts, doctors and environmentalist have discredited the use of Corexit as a tool for oil spill clean up.
“Toxicity of the petroleum products is increased when it is dissolved into the water by dispersants,” said Robert McKee of Krupnick Campbell Malone Buser Slama Hancock Liberman and McKee. “In essence, this activity is making aquatic organisms more exposed to chemicals’ harm. The attempt to make these floating tars and oils disappear from view by the use of dispersants increases the likelihood of poisonous effects in these oil polluted waters.”
Mr. McKee added, “The use of dispersants, without knowing the cascade of toxic events which may flow from the practice, mandates that those who may be forced to prove their losses in a court of law obtain competent and environmentally knowledgeable legal representatives who can establish the pre-damage baseline ecology now, in order to compare to post-oil spill contamination effects seen later. Without that immediate effort, victims who did not seek that type of early assistance may lose their ability to prove a full accounting of their rightful compensation for losses they actually sustain. The use of dispersants not only hides the amount of oil actually being discharged from view, but also serves to undermine damage proof for the unwary victim who chooses to wait to see what is going to happen.”
“What, if any, published testing data has BP used to understand and quantify the long term and short term risks presented to marine environments and fisheries populations by the ongoing spillage of petroleum? What facts supported the decision that dispersants would effectively protect shorelines without significantly impacting the water column and benthic marine populations of the Gulf?” said Mr. Smith. “BP must answer the many questions that arise from the usage of dispersants and be accountable for its actions and the harmful effects they have on marine life, the coastline and the livelihood of those who make their living off the fisheries and tourism industry.”