Yet another study questions the use of Corexit


It’s looking more and more like the federal government’s massive civil suit against BP over the 2010 Deepwater Horizon catastrophe is actually going to trial — although you never know what’s going to happen until the judge bangs the final gavel. I do know this: If BP — and the people of the Gulf Coast — actually all do get our day (or weeks) in court, you’re sure to hear a lot of gobbledygook from the Big Oil icon about how well the spill was managed and everything is just a-OK on the environmental front today.

Don’t believe a word of it. Over the last nearly three years, we’ve been telling you that the tons of dispersant called Corexit — in addition to making folks, and fish, sick — sprayed to make BP’s oil from sight didn’t really make it go away. In fact, on the eve of what could be an epic court battle, we hear from our sources along the coastline that lingering oil has continued to wreak havoc on the shrimp harvest, and we’ve seen the remnants of the Deepwater Horizon disaster regurgitated by every tropical storm that strikes Louisiana or nearby states.

Now it comes yet another study that questions why BP and the feds were so anxious to spray so much of a toxic chemical in the Gulf — when Mother Nature may well have done the trick. A new study has found that bacterial communities could take oil to the bottom of the sea naturally — if allowed to do its job:

Samantha Joye, a marine scientist at the University of Georgia, US, has been looking at sediment deposition after the disaster. Joye’s team confirmed that this sediment layer was new by examining thorium-234 isotopes in it. Thorium-234 is a naturally occurring uranium series radionuclide that has a half-life of only 24 days. This means that it can be used as a marker to establish how old the sediment is. They also used the microbial communities in the sediment as a biomarker to establish where this sediment had come from. What they discovered was that the freshly laid sediment contained bacteria you would usually expect to find on surface rather than on the sea bed.

In fact, the team found that the bacterial communities on the surface of the ocean in the Gulf of Mexico can produce a very sticky glue. This sticks to everything it comes into contact with: foraminifera, phytoplankton, algae and oil. After the Deepwater Horizon disaster, these bacteria formed ‘slime stringers’, a bio-emulsion of oil and other material, that sank down to the sea bed.

As for other approaches used after the Deepwater Horizon disaster, Joye says that she thinks it might have been better if dispersants weren’t used at all, and instead the oil was left to disperse naturally. ‘Maybe [dispersants] made things like benzene partition more into the plume but there were no controlled experiments done, so I don’t think you can say dispersants were a good thing, especially when you look at all the toxicological data that is beginning to show all sorts of problems in a whole variety of different animals,’ she says.

A body of research is now being put together on the effects of Corexit, the dispersant used in the Gulf of Mexico. Robert Griffit, from the department of coastal sciences, University of Southern Mississippi, US, says that the dispersant has a severe effect on egg production and hatching success of the sheepshead minnow, which lives in saltmarsh estuaries along the gulf coast. Research has shown that other species have also been affected by the dispersant.

And yet government scientists are convinced that Corexit is the solution to any oil spill — even to the extent that a top federal official recently suggested it could clean up spills in the frigid waters of the Arctic, despite strong evidence to the contrary. A good way to clean up an oil spill is the old-fashioned way — to scoop up as much as you can. But an even better way is to make sure the spill never happens in the first place.

To read more from Chemistry World about Samantha Joye’s research, please read :

Check out my post from Dec. 2 about the environmental hazards of Corexit at:

To read the May 11, 2010, warning about Corexit from me and from other scientists and environmental attorneys, please read:

To watch a video from civil engineer Marco Kaltofen showing the toxicity of Corexit, go to:

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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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