Monday, June 7, 2010

The Dispersant Question

One of the great unanswered and unaddressed issues arising as a result of BP's blunder in the Gulf is the overall effect - long and short term - of the dispersants being pumped into the oil leak undersea. As of this weekend, over 1 million gallons of Corexit have been dumped into the Gulf of Mexico. The main reason, as stated by BP and Admiral Allen is to keep the oil from coming to the surface.

That statement alone should raise flags. Keep it from the surface? As in where we can't see it or measure it? As in hiding it? Note that nobody says the dispersant makes the oil just go away. The clue to what is going on is right there is the word "dispersant."

The stuff is designed to disperse oil. Spread it out. make it smaller. And in doping so, keep it underwater and far more subject to the existing currents than the surface oil. It just spreads it out over a larger area. Loosely put, the overt underwater overuse of these chemicals is for cosmetic purposes and serves no actual productive purpose.

Based on the data sheets available from Corexit manufacturer Nalco, this stuff is meant to used on the surface to dispel slicks or to remove oil from beaches and boats. None of the manufacturer data has any indication of underwater injection and certainly none at depths 5,000 feet. Yet, BP is using this stuff like it was as harmless as water.

It is not. Here is what Nalco says about the stuff:

Eye and skin irritant. Repeated or excessive exposure to butoxyethanol may cause injury to red blood cells (hemolysis), kidney or the liver. Harmful by inhalation, in contact with skin and if swallowed. Do not get in eyes, on skin, on clothing. Do not take internally. Use with adequate ventilation. Wear suitable protective clothing. Keep container tightly closed. Flush affected area with water. Keep away from heat. Keep away from sources of ignition - No smoking.
May evolve oxides of carbon (COx) under fire conditions.

EYE CONTACT : Can cause moderate irritation.
SKIN CONTACT : Can cause moderate irritation. Harmful if absorbed through skin.
INGESTION : May be harmful if swallowed. May cause liver and kidney effects and/or damage. There may be irritation to the gastro-intestinal tract.
INHALATION : Harmful by inhalation. Repeated or prolonged exposure may irritate the respiratory tract.
Acute : Excessive exposure may cause central nervous system effects, nausea, vomiting, anesthetic or narcotic effects.
Chronic : Repeated or excessive exposure to butoxyethanol may cause injury to red blood cells (hemolysis), kidney or the
AGGRAVATION OF EXISTING CONDITIONS : Skin contact may aggravate an existing dermatitis condition.
HUMAN HEALTH HAZARDS - CHRONIC : Contains ethylene glycol monobutyl ether (butoxyethanol). Prolonged and/or repeated exposure through inhalation or extensive skin contact with EGBE may result in damage to the blood and kidneys.

Note the repeated "Human Health Hazards." If this stuff was anywhere near a school, people would go to prison. Well, it is near schools. Schools of fish. Fish that will find their way into our food supply. And nobody has ever studied that.

By injecting it at the leaking wellhead, BP has created an unknown hazard. We already know all too well the hazards of crude oil. But Corexit? No studies. No data. No scientific examination of long term effects of long term usage. And it will be long term.

Wjen you look at the images of the leaking well on the floor of the Gulf, those white streams mixed in with the oil are Corexit. In fact, 2 of the cameras monitor "Dispersant Ops." And they go non-stop.

Despite an initial order from the apparently toothless Obama EPA to cease use, BP keeps pumping the stuff. And EPA backed off, allowing no more than 15,000 gallons per day. If we start on June 1 and assume use until August 31, that is 92 days at 15,000 gallons per day or another 1.4 million gallons of this stuff. Add that to the already pumped in million or so gallons and you have the makings of a secondary environmental catastrophe.

I live in Southeast Florida. Down here, so-called environmental science types have been tinkering with the ecosystem since I was a kid. They introduce one insect to get rid of another insect, and lo and behold, the new insect becomes a new unexpected problem. Every time these folks try to use an introduced species to fix something, they "break" something else.

And that is exactly what BP is doing with all of this dispersant. Introducing a toxic chemical in an attempt to neutralize a toxic chemical. They believe that keeping the oil off of the surface is a solution and it is not. The only way to really get rid of the oil is to allow it to rise to the surface and then remove it. Keeping it below the surface, mixed with Corexit, makes it impossible to track, evaluate and remove. By keeping it below the surface, the millions of feet of boom are almost silly.

As it now stands, BP continues to deny and underwater plumes of oil, even though they have been detected and tracked repeatedly. Worse is the fact that by dispersing the oil with Corexit undersea, the affected area increases with no detection until it is too late. We are very good at identifying and tracking surface oil slicks. We know how to deal with them (setting aside the endless failure to do so promptly in the Gulf).

I do want to make it very clear that I am not pointing at the engineers and scientists working night and day to stop this leak. Those folks have been at it for 7 weeks without a rest. They are doing literally everything they can. I respect their efforts.

It is the senior executives at BP that are lying about this stuff and their reasons for using it and senior administration officials that keep quietly looking the other way. When was the last time EPA backed down immediately on anything? It is not as if there is adequate science here.

I have to wonder why EPA backed off so quickly on Corexit. There are other approved products that are not nearly as toxic. And I wonder why nobody has yet to call BP out for their blatant effort to keep the spilled oil invisible and therefore unmeasurable. It is only a matter of time until we find out the effects of this stuff. Sadly, it appears that we are all test subjects in this large scale study.

There are already reports of people getting sick with some of the above symptoms in Louisiana. BP contends it is food poisoning. Well, food poisoning doesn't cause respiratory distress. Corexit does. None of the workers down there have respiratory protection, as recommended by Nalco. Many do not have the appropriate gloves and clothing. Yet, the chemical continues to be used and dismissed as somehow not a problem.

While I am not a scientist or engineer, I can do basic math. And that math tells me that BP is using Corexit in a non-recommended manner and massive quantities to attempt to conceal the sheer size of this spill. That same math also tells me that the EPA and the rest of the self-proclaimed "green" administration is not as interested in the environment as they are in minimizing the awful visuals that oil spills bring.

At this point, the continued use of Corexit in these quantities calls to mind the phrase, "Burning down the village to save it."

I am offering shirts with the design at the top of the post and will be sending the profits directly to the Plaquemines Parish Fund that is set up to help the folks most hurt by this mess.

I spoke to the good folks at Plaquemines to make sure they had a fund set up and how to send the money. I have to say that for people living a horror show, they are some of the nicest and most grateful people you would ever want to talk to.

Please help out and get the message out at the same time.

You can order them here:

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