It’s time to ban the use of Corexit, period


The jury shouldn’t be out anymore on Corexit, the toxic dispersant that was massively dumped on the Gulf of Mexico after the BP oil spill in 2010. Many of us had concerns almost from Day One, with reports from clean-up workers of headaches and nausea. Despite our campaign to convince the government to prevent BP from dumping more toxins on top of its gigantic oil spill, the feds ultimately allowed the oil company to use some 1.8 million pounds of Corexit.

The dispersant helped get the oil out of sight and away from the TV cameras, but it didn’t make the oil go away; millions of gallons still coat the floor of the Gulf, five years later. Then the scientists went to work, producing a series of studies that more carefully analyzed the effect of this chemical manufactured by Nalco. The researchers found that mixing with dispersant made the oil spill 52 times more toxic, that it caused crude oil to penetrate the beaches more easily, and that it has had devastating health impacts on fish and marine wildlife in the Gulf.  For these reasons, Corexit has been banned in the United Kingdom and in Sweden.

But not in the United States. Indeed, if another BP-sized spill occurred in this country, BP — and other oil giants — would almost certainly use Corexit yet again. To coincide with the recent 5th anniversary of the spill, the Government Accountability Project issued a damning analysis of our policy on dispersants:

[Corexit] had devastating affects on human health, says the GAP, based on data they collected from extensive Freedom of Information Act requests and from evidence collected over 20 months from more than two dozen employee and citizen whistleblowers who experienced the cleanup’s effects firsthand.

The report cites four major areas of concern: 1) existing health problems; 2) failure to protect clean-up workers; 3) ecological problems and food safety issues; 4) and inadequate compensation. Ongoing health problems from the “BP Syndrome” include: blood in urine, heart palpitations, kidney and liver damage, migraines, multiple chemical sensitivity, memory loss, rapid weight loss, respiratory system and nervous system damage, seizures, skin irritation (burning and lesions), and temporary paralysis, plus long-term concerns about exposure to known carcinogens.

Failure to protect clean-up workers began with BP and the government misrepresenting known risks by asserting that Corexit was low in toxicity—this contrary to warnings in BP’s own internal manual—says the GAP. They cite other problems:

Interviewed cleanup workers reported they either didn’t receive any training or didn’t receive the federally required training. Worker resource manuals detailing Corexit health hazards were not delivered or were removed from BP worksites early in the cleanup, when health problems began. Divers were allowed to enter the water after assurances it was safe and additional protective equipment was unnecessary, despite government agency regulations prohibited diving during the spill due to health risks.

The study notes that the vast majority of cleanup workers were exposed to Corexit, that few were given the opportunity to wear protective clothing, and that indeed BP and the feds seemed to think that the sight of protective clothing would be off-message from the goal of reassuring the public that the Gulf and its seafood were safe. : “The FDA grossly misrepresented the results of its analysis of Gulf seafood safety,” the GAP report noted. “Of GAP’s witnesses, a majority expressed concern over the quality of government seafood testing, and reported seeing new seafood deformities firsthand. A majority of fishermen reported that their catch has decreased significantly since the spill.”

How much evidence does Washington need? There’s now a mountain of data establishing the detrimental effects of using Corexit, and no meaningful positive information about its use. There are other, much less harmful methods of controlling an oil spill other than spraying a toxic chemical into our seas. There’s absolutely no reason why the United States can’t join other nations in banning Corexit, period. The verdict has already been rendered.

To read more from Mother Jones about the accumulating evidence against Corexit, check out:

To find out more about our push to block the widespread use of Corexit in 2010, read my book, Crude Justice: How I Fought Big Oil and Won, and What You Should Know About the New Environmental Attack on America:

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