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Friday, 25 October 2013 09:11

BP’s Final Nail in the Gulf Coffin: Why the Feds Must Ban the Toxic Dispersant Corexit

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DeepwaterSlickOn April 20th, 2010, BP’s Deepwater Horizon exploded off the Gulf of Mexico, claiming 11 lives, followed by an estimated 200 million gallons of oil that polluted the sea and shores with black poisonous tar for three months. The world’s worst oil catastrophe in history left the Gulf’s fishing and tourist industries in an extremely depressing situation. It’s not exactly accurate to claim that life on the Gulf is completely dead. The oil industry is booming.  But thanks primarily to British Petroleum’s and Halliburton’s decisions of gross negligence i.e. putting profits first over safety, the tourist and fishing industries are struggling to say the least, (read Dahr Jamail’s Gulf Ecosystem in Crisis) which is the reason BP was forced to set aside a relief fund of $20 billion dollars for victims of these Gulf businesses; some did well from the settlements, but many are in dire straits.  Moreover, BP is still sitting on most of that relief fund money.

Cleanup has been an ongoing nightmare. Scientists are now concerned about the possibility of restoration given the damage that was done to the fragile ecosystems, specifically the food chain that has been “dissolved” from harsh chemical pollutants: viz. the combination of oil and the potent toxic dispersant Corexit. Corexit is largely the culprit that has literally dissolved the food chain vital for regeneration of marine life.

Tragically, the likelihood of recovery is slim to say the least due to the fact that the US government allowed BP to drop tons of the highly toxic dispersant, Corexit, over vast areas of the Gulf for long periods of time, areas that included sensitive oyster and clam estuaries. No other government in any other civilized country would have been that ignorant, that careless to allow an oil company to dump tons of toxic chemicals on top of millions of gallons of oil. It’s the equivalent of unloading truckloads of decomposing acid into the ocean. The consequences have been unspeakably horrifying and heartbreaking: thousands of dolphins have washed up on the shores, dead, with their eyes literally burned out of their sockets, eyeless shrimp, deformed fish with lesions, and above all else: no fish.

As reported by Dahr Jamail:

Numerous other impacts have been documented since the disaster began, including genetic disruptions for Gulf killifish, harm to deepwater corals, and the die-off of tiny foraminifera that are an important part of the Gulf's food chain.

Ongoing studies continue to reveal toxins from BP's spill in water, soil, and seafood samples.

Meanwhile, fishermen in BP's impact zone wonder if things will ever return to normal. "Our future is very, very dim, and there are no sponge crabs out there, which is the future," Robin concluded. "I've never seen this in my lifespan. I'm not seeing a future, because everything out there is dead."

Surely President Obama knew that Corexit had been banned in the UK since the 1980s? He apparently didn’t care because just as BP wanted this catastrophe to vanish, it was also to the President’s advantage to make it go away with re-election on his mind. Well they got what they asked for. Marine life disappeared…into a vast oily dead zone.

Corexit has been banned in eighteen countries¹ for the reason that it is a cancerous causing neurotoxin pesticide that is acutely toxic to both human and marine life, it can damage internal organs such as the liver and kidneys simply by absorbing it through the skin and may cause reproductive side effects. Earthjustice and Toxipedia Consulting Services conducted the first analysis of the 57 chemicals found in Corexit formulas 9500 and 9527 in the summer of 2011. Results showed the dispersant could contain cancer-causing agents, hazardous toxins and endocrine-disrupting chemicals. The analysis found "5 chemicals are associated with cancer; 33 are associated with skin irritation from rashes to burns; 33 are linked to eye irritation; 11 are or are suspected of being potential respiratory toxins or irritants; 10 are suspected kidney toxins; 8 are suspected or known to be toxic to aquatic organisms; and 5 are suspected to have a moderate acute toxicity to fish”. 

Let’s rewind the tape to July 2010. Truthout’s Rose Aguilar wrote about the health hazards from exposure to Corexit.   It’s as if residents were nothing more than inconvenient bugs that happened to be in the way of BP’s goal to make the oil look as if it had dissolved when it in fact they were adding poisonous chemicals on top of more hazardous chemicals producing an alarming toxic brew:

In late May, Riki Ott began meeting people in the Gulf with symptoms like headaches, dizziness, sore throats, burning eyes, rashes and blisters that are so deep, they're leaving scars. People are asking, "What's happening to me?"

She says the culprit is almost two million gallons of Corexit, the dispersant BP is using to break up and hide the oil below the ocean's surface. "It's an industrial solvent. It's a degreaser. It's chewing up boat engines off-shore. It's chewing up dive gear on-shore. Of course it's chewing up people's skin. The doctors are saying the solvents are making the oil worse."

In a widely watched YouTube video, from Project Gulf Impact, a project that aims to give Gulf residents a voice, Chris Pincetich, a marine biologist and campaigner with the Sea Turtle Restoration Project, said Coast Guard planes are flying overhead at night spraying Corexit on the water and on land.

Recently the Tampa Bay Times has been publishing the University of Southern Florida’s studies of the ongoing massive die-off of fish, plant life (killed millions of microscopic creatures: the base of food-chain and coral reefs, essential for regeneration of life). In short, there are little signs of life left in the Gulf.  The full implications of the die-off are yet to be seen. The foraminifera are consumed by clams and other creatures that provide food for the next step in the food chain, including the types of fish found with lesions. Fish, dolphins, turtles, shrimp – are shockingly deformed, mostly without eyes.  Alabama researchers found that the dispersant killed plankton and disrupted the Gulf of Mexico's food web, noting that it is "like the middle part of the food chain has been taken away".

In late 2012, a study from Georgia Tech and Universidad Autonoma de Aguascalientes, Mexico reported that Corexit used during the BP oil spill had increased the toxicity of the oil by 52 times.

Residents of the Gulf are outraged. Although BP had the legal right to use Corexit, the Obama administration had the legal authority to override that decision simply on the grounds that it is too lethal, too harmful and that it is not really eliminating the oil, it was simply “dispersing” the plumes of oil into an invisible sheen of toxic particles. It’s a dangerous cocktail of chemicals that not only killed hundreds of thousands of fish, mammals, pelicans, whales, dolphins – it has done irreparable damage to the food chain.

It’s a hard truth but it needs to be said: When the food chain is gone, game over.

Ironically, BP is suing the U.S. government over an E.P.A. decision to bar BP from getting new federal military contracts to supply fuel and other services after the company pleaded guilty to manslaughter and other criminal charges related to the 2010 Gulf of Mexico disaster.   The last thing that this oil company deserves is new permits to drill in the U.S. Oil executives are ruthless, but BP takes the prize for PR deception and lies. According to recent reports, BP is still dropping Corexit over the Gulf. Why? Good question that needs to be investigated. Scientists have documented oil surfacing from the BP Macondo site. In this CBS report, we learn that new oil sheens and plumes continue to spread off the Louisiana coast. Tests confirmed the oil came from the infamous Macondo well underneath the Deepwater Horizon. Al Jazeera reporter Dahr Jamail also confirmed that the Macondo well is leaking oil.  That is typically how BP operates. Don’t solve the underlying problem: it’s more profitable to cover it up with Corexit.

Given BP’s reckless pursuit of profits, their hideous record of oil disasters, and what they’ve done to the Gulf’s residents, marine life, fishing and tourist industries—this company should be permanently barred from drilling in the U.S. And if that can’t happen, then the Federal government must at the very least join the UK in banning Corexit.  

President Obama doesn’t have to send drones half way across the world to kill poor grandmothers farming the fields of Pakistan to keep Americans safe. All he has to do is regulate the fossil fuel industry and ban Corexit. That’s how he can protect Americans. If he wants to keep Americans safe he should also get a team of the best qualified Pentagon engineers and nuclear physicists together to solve a real global threat: Fukushima. We’re talking about the potential of released radiation equivalent to 14,000 times the amount released by the Hiroshima atomic bomb. This seems a little more urgent than targeting barefooted Pakistani farmers that live in clay huts. I don’t feel threatened by these poor people. I feel threatened by Corexit and Fukushima.

(Photo: NASA/GSFC, MODIS Rapid Response AND demis.nl AND FT2)



1. The UK’s Marine Management Organization has banned Corexit. In fact, Corexit products currently being used in the Gulf were removed from a list of approved treatments for oil spills in the U.K. more than a decade ago. The Environmental Advisory Service for Oil and Chemical Spills at IVL, Swedish Environmental Institute, has, upon request of the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency evaluated Corexit extensively and recommended it not be used in Swedish waters.


Jacqueline Marcus is the editor of ForPoetry.com and EnvironmentalPress.com. Author of Close to the Shore by Michigan State University Press. Her E-book Man Cannot Live on Oil, Alone / Time to end our dependency on oil before it ends usis available at Amazon.com Kindle Books.