As BP believes it has finally made progress plugging the massive oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico, it has managed to prevent much of the oil already released from washing onshore by using huge quantities of oil dispersants. BP rounded up a “third of the world’s available supply of dispersants” and has been deploying them aggressively. But Greenwire reports that the chemical BP is using is more toxic and perhaps even less effective than other available dispersents:
So far, BP has told federal agencies that it has applied more than 400,000 gallons of a dispersant sold under the trade name Corexit and manufactured by Nalco Co., a company that was once part of Exxon Mobil Corp. and whose current leadership includes executives at both BP and Exxon. And another 805,000 gallons of Corexit are on order, the company said, with the possibility that hundreds of thousands of more gallons may be needed if the well continues spewing oil for weeks or months.
But according to EPA data, Corexit ranks far above dispersants made by competitors in toxicity and far below them in effectiveness in handling southern Louisiana crude.
Of 18 dispersants whose use EPA has approved, 12 were found to be more effective on southern Louisiana crude than Corexit, EPA data show. Two of the 12 were found to be 100 percent effective on Gulf of Mexico crude, while the two Corexit products rated 56 percent and 63 percent effective, respectively. The toxicity of the 12 was shown to be either comparable to the Corexit line or, in some cases, 10 or 20 times less, according to EPA.
BP “shares close ties” with Nalco. A BP board member who served as an executive at the company for 43 years also sits on Nalco’s board, and critics suggest there may be a conflict of interest in BP’s choice of Corexit. “It’s a chemical that the oil industry makes to sell to itself, basically,” said Defenders of Wildlife’s Richard Charter. While use of dispersants helps keep oil off beaches and out of wetlands, “[s]cientists warn that the dispersed oil, as well as the dispersants themselves, might cause long-term harm to marine life.” Even Nalco admits the chemicals pose “moderate” environmental hazard, but Pro Publica noted that dispersant ingredients are kept secret under trade laws, so it’s difficult to know the potential fallout from using them. A Corexit product was used to cleanup the Exxon Valdez spill, and workers suffered health problems “including blood in their urine and assorted kidney and liver disorder.”
Climate Progress’ Joe Romm notes that as toxic as Corexit is, dispersed oil is more toxic.