Dispersants Used on BP Spill Contain Chemicals Associated with Cancer: New Report

Image credit: pppsics via Flickr/CC BY

Many of us sounded the alarm as soon as we learned of BP's plans to dump huge quantities of the chemical dispersant Corexit into the Gulf in an attempt to break up the oil slick. Experts were concerned, seeing as how the chemical had never been used in such quantities before, nor in such a manner -- until the federal government made them stop, BP was blasting the stuff directly into the source, seeking to disperse the oil before it even reached the surface.

Well, now Earth Justice has completed a report on the chemicals that were used in the different blends of dispersant, and it appears that at least some of those fears were well-founded. The New York Times reports (emphasis mine):

A review has now been published by Earthjustice, in collaboration with Toxipedia, an online toxicology Wiki, of all the scientific literature concerning the potential health impacts of these 57 chemicals. The report finds that "Of the 57 ingredients: 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."

While words like "associated with" or "linked to" may sound weak and unconvincing, the syntax highlights just how little is actually known about these chemicals. For 13 of the dispersant ingredients, no relevant data could be found.

In other words, the new report confirms what was already well-known: Blasting 1.84 million gallons of Corexit into the Gulf ecosystem was a risky move with largely unpredictable impacts. And we won't know the true impact -- both on aquatic ecosystems and the health of residents who live nearby -- without further and sustained inquiry. It is already suspected that the Corexit caused respiratory illness and skin damage amongst emergency responders and coastal residents.

Dumping the dispersants across the Gulf was a dangerous experiment that we never should've had to have undertaken -- but it's an experiment we'll more likely than not see carried out again, in the wake of the next high-profile offshore oil disaster.

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