New study confirms the worst about toxic dispersant in the Gulf


In 2010, I was part of an alliance of environmentalists and others who pleaded with the federal government to work with BP in ending the widespread use of the toxic chemical called Corexit. This dangerous substance was being sprayed, in large quantities, to make the crude oil from the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe disappear. It seemed clear from Day One that simply spraying another poisonous chemical on top of the more than 4 million barrels of crude oil that ultimately spewed from the damaged rig was the height of insanity. Indeed, we received early reports from the Gulf clean-up brigade of troubling symptoms — headaches, nausea, skin rashes, and more — and we suspected that Corexit was as much as factor as the crude oil itself.

Indeed, officials with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency promised the Louisiana environmental community that BP’s wanton deployment of Corexit would be sharply curtailed, if not eliminated altogether — that there would be new protocols that would require the British oil giant to get the regulators’ OK before deploying the dangerous substance in the Gulf. But — as happened again and again and again, in 2010 and the years since — the government acted more in the interest of a foreign energy company than the American people, repeatedly rubber-stamping the use of Corexit. In the end, a whopping 1.8 million pounds of the substance was sprayed — not to make the Gulf a safer place for humans or for its once-abundant marine wildlife, but to make the oil to vanish from the TV cameras, to lessen BP’s public relations nightmare.

Since then, a number of scientific studies have come out confirming what seemed obvious in 2010, that this toxic dispersant is far worse for the environment than either BP or the EPA would have had us believe. The newest such report is particularly devastating:

WASHINGTON — The chemical sprayed on the 2010 BP oil spill may not have helped crucial petroleum-munching microbes get rid of the slick, a new study suggests.

And that leads to more questions about where much of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill went. If the new results are true, up to half the oil can’t be accounted for, said the author of a new study on the spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

After the 172 million gallon spill, the chemical dispersant Corexit 9500 was applied by airplane on the slick to help it go away and help natural microbes in the water eat the oil faster. The oil appeared to dissipate, but scientists and government officials didn’t really monitor the microbes and chemicals, said University of Georgia marine scientist Samantha Joye.

So Joye and colleagues recreated the application in a lab, with the dispersant, BP oil and water from the gulf, and found that it didn’t help the microbes at all and even hurt one key oil-munching bug, according to a study published Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“The dispersants did a great job in that they got the oil off the surface,” Joye said. “What you see is the dispersants didn’t ramp up biodegradation.” In fact, she found the oil with no dispersant “degraded a heckuva lot faster than the oil with dispersants,” Joye said.

What’s fascinating is that Joye’s research seems to show that the presence of Corexit actually inhibits the work of the natural microorganisms that, under normal circumstances, would gradually absorb much of the oil. In other words, doing absolutely nothing would have been better for the long-range health of the Gulf than spraying this dispersant.

So where did all of BP’s oil go? That’s a great question — and the preliminary evidence seems to suggest that a lot of it was merely driven down to the ocean floor, where it will likely wreak havoc on this complex ecosystem for many, many years to come. Indeed, the real question posed by Joye’s important new research is one that I’ve asked here previously: Why, knowing what we now know, has Corexit not been banned for use in the United States?

Read more about the important new research into Corexit here:

Learn more about how we fought for greater protection for the BP spill cleanup workers in my new book, Crude Justice: How I Fought Big Oil and Won, and What You Should Know About the New Environmental Attack on America

© Stuart H. Smith, LLC 2015 – All Rights Reserved


Add comment

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

Follow Us

© Stuart H Smith, LLC
Share This