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The After-Effects of the BP Oil Spill

The After-Effects of the BP Oil Spill

Besides the heavy slick of oil still found several feet below the ocean’s surface and the sheen in the marshes of many Gulf states, another toxic chemical lies in wait. One that most people can’t really tell apart from normal drinking water. The oil dispersants used during the clean-up is extremely hazardous and has finally reached normal water supply.

An estimated 1.9 million gallons of Corexit was dumped into the gulf, these dispersants contain petroleum distillates and 2-butoxyethanol, known to cause skin rashes and respiratory problems among humans. In fact, 2-butoxyethanol is handled extremely carefully among the workers (they can only be exposed to 20ppm) and US employers are required by law to inform employees when they are working with the substance. While the chemical itself is known to decompose when in contact with air in a few days, unfortunately when mixed combined to create Corexit, does not dissipate as quickly. In fact, there has not been any toxicity studies done on the dispersant. Though manufacturer safety data sheets conclude that Corexit has very low human toxicity, workers are still required to wear breathing protection and work in well-ventilated areas [Source: ToxNet].

But it’s not the dispersant themselves that cause the problems, it’s the mixture of the Corexit and crude oil. The mix creates, poly-aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), which has been identified as a carcinogen, mutagen and teratogen. The dispersant mixes with the oil and becomes water soluble, which then evaporates into the air. This harmful chemical comes down as rain in addition to being in the water on the beaches, soil, wetlands, even crab, oyster and mussel tissue. Louisiana, Florida, Mississippie and Alabama are the four states heavily influenced by the spill and are also seeing the damaging effects of this chemical reaction. Fishermen that have worked in the cleanup efforts have noted severe health issues such as vomiting and strange colored discharge during urination. Doctors have noted internal hemorrhaging in those that work around the area as well. Others have noticed respiratory problems, severe rashes, ulcers, neurological problems, liver and kidney failure and even death. In all of these cases, doctors have found that the blood in all of the subjects contained either chemicals in BP crude oil or the dispersants themselves. Hugh Kaufman, a BP whistle-blower, has also spoken against dispersant, noting that “People who work near it are hemorrhaging internally. And that’s what dispersants are supposed to do … And, for example, in the Exxon Valdez case, people who worked with dispersants, most of them are dead now” [Source: Examiner]. This hazardous chemical has affected people of all ages from as young as 2 to as old as 60 [Source: AlJazeera].

While humans have been affected, there has been little research in regards tot the long-term impact of the dispersant on the environment and wildlife. According to Nancy Kinnear, at the University of New Hampshire, most of the research was concerned with short-term effects and “very little is known about chronic toxicity, biodegradability, and other consequences” [Source: Oil&Gas Journal]. In fact the Obama Administration recently stated that they were unaware of the environmental impacts of these dispersants. It is only after six-months that scientists are beginning to research the effects. UCF is studying the health of various dolphins in the area and tracking its eating habits to see the effects on the animal. The study is intended to span one year and BP has footed part of the bill, donating $10,000,000 million to the Florida Institute of Oceanography, who donated $205,000 to UCF [Source: Orlando Sentinel]. Greenpeace is also studying the effects of the dispersants on marine life, but concentrating more on deep-water coral and sponges to understand the impact of the spill and to see whether the dispersants are indeed harmful to these fragile creatures [Source: Popular Science]. According to an EPA press release, the Corexit 9500A is not as toxic as oil and the combination of the two is no more toxic than the two alone. Regardless of it’s toxicity, some scientist, like Professor Richard Snyder of the University of West Florida, believes that the dispersants are simply breaking up the oil into smaller parts and sinking them. A sample from the the ocean floor seems to suggest that there are numerous layers of degraded oil [Source: The Corsair].

The federal reports tested eight different dispersants and found them all to be less toxic to marine life than oil. While the dispersant 952A was used originally, it was replaced by the less lethal 9500A that does not contain the 2-butoxyethanol. Though the tests maintain Corexin’s relative safety, the sheer amount that is still being used will certainly have some future ijmplications.

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Jasmine Greene

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102 comments

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9:09AM PDT on Jun 16, 2011

Oil spills will affected many people and many industries. They affect both the economy and the environment. Some of the things affected are:marine life, local industries, fishing industry.

the maneger of this is very great because he wrote about all this

7:11AM PST on Jan 30, 2011

No chemical dispearsants should have ever been allowed in the Gulf. We have absolutely no scientific knowledge as to what the long term affects to the fish, marine life, and ultimitally human life will be. Will fish now develop mutations and abnormalities? Will humans now be poisioned by eating the fish that have been poisoned? Will humans develop cancer or other diseases now because of eating chemically poisoned fish from the Gulf. Why did Lisa Jackson make this horrible descission to use chemical despearsants knowing full well that no enviromental scientist can declare these chemicals safe? Will women give birth to deformed babies or babies with down symdrum? The point is for the next 50 years we don't know what the long term implications are from unknown chemical contamination. We need to decare the Gulf a no fish zone permanately and study the effects these chemicals will have on marine life and humans. We should pass a law that chemical depearsants will never be allowed to clean up an oil spill. The natural microbes will eat up the oil in time. Their is no need to use toxic chemical dispearsants.

5:15PM PST on Dec 9, 2010

This is all so sad! And apparently the ones who can and should do something about it are the only ones who don't care: the government and the companies (in this case BP) As long as oil is a big business people's health and animal welfare will be secondary.

6:38PM PST on Nov 30, 2010

A smaller human population means fewer DEMANDS on our earth. LIMIT population growth!

2:16PM PST on Nov 13, 2010

I don't think that BP gave anyone 10 trillion dollars.

6:44PM PST on Nov 12, 2010

How long will the human race last with all these pollutions around us?

8:27AM PDT on Nov 2, 2010

I'll provide one interesting statistic that provides serious implication that the dispersants have been harmful to wildlife...the actual number of birds that have been found dead or alive, and oiled and non-oiled. The deaths of non-oiled birds was drastically higher than those oiled.

Here are the statistics taken from US Fish & Wildlife services at http: //www.fws.gov/home/dhoilspill/collectionreports.html :

Found: Dead Alive Total
Not visibly oiled: 2,772 784 3,556
Visibly oiled 1,664 781 2,445
"Unknown oiling" 843 1 844
----------------------------------------------------
TOTALS: 5,279 1,566 6,845

I would say these birds were hemorraghing internally or died from the toxins they ingested. I can find no other reason so many birds would be found dead without physical signs. According to one of the statistics I read, they are supposed to perform autopsies on those found dead without oil. So far, either no autopsies have been performed or they have been performed but they're not releasing the findings of these autopsies. A cover-up?

You can't tell me that nearly 4,000 birds died of natural causes found in the same area as the dead ones, during the worst environmental disaster we've ever had.

What's worse, they have NO IDEA of the deaths of marine life - they're not reporting that. I was at Gulf Shores this weekend, we found 3 dead fish and 2 dead gulls. They

2:40AM PDT on Nov 2, 2010

Hi Cindy Symington,
Thanks for that, but it seems to be more of the same sort of anecdotal reporting. I was hoping to find some proof of contaminated rainfall.
There are plenty of reports of damage to vegetation caused by the Macondo blow-out and Corexit, but they seem to be fairly evenly distributed over the entire continent. The demonisation of BP in the media appears to have convinced many that there is only one source of pollution in the US!
The origin of the Corexit rain scare is, so far as I can tell, an off-the-cuff remark by one Bob Naman... yes, he of the "explosive water" nonsense.
Analytical reports that have some actual veracity are available from the EPA, though I can only find water data obtained from sea water samples. However, since the PAHs must get into the air before they can attach to rain, one would expect inland air quality monitoring stations to be registering significant readings, and of those I've examined so far, "ND" (not detectable) is all they are finding.

10:33PM PDT on Nov 1, 2010

Although I am no expert in the chemistry of crude oil, I do have an opinion on the BP oil spill. Whether or not the toxicity comes from a specific compound, an oil spill cannot be tolerated. Foreign chemicals in an natural ocean is in no way acceptable. But, its hard to be so critical because everything we do as Americans is hypocritical. We are the cause of the dramatic, negative changes in the environment. We are causing permanent damage to our world, but there are such limited voices speaking up about change in our world. Maybe the effects of the oil spill will encourage change in the way we live. I doubt it, though.

3:41PM PDT on Nov 1, 2010

To J. Fazerider: I actually thought the author did a fairly good job in listing his source material, but I can see why you feel there's some specifics missing on Corexit. Please take a look at just one day's entries at this link (a florida firm set up to keep track of all that's going on in the gulf):
www.floridaoilspilllaw.com

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