Disputes remain over toxicity of Corexit; EPA approval process too long for alternative

Since July 15th, BP has ceased all use of dispersants in the clean-up of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. Although not widely publicized, BP’s decision was made in conjunction with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Coast Guard and came after three months use and 1.8 million gallons of the dispersant Corexit.

BP has not ruled out future aerial application of dispersants, depending on the weather and water conditions. However, regarding the move away from dispersants BP spokesman, Steve Rinehart, said “the decision was due to a changed scenario, not fears over toxicity… Dispersants are used to break up surface oil before it can drift onto shore, and they were most suitable when there was a lot of oil on the surface and leaking from the bottom, but they are no longer so necessary.” A representative from the Unified Command’s Joint Information Center concurred that “there’s not so much oil on the surface that would need it.”

Mr. Rinehart also wanted to make clear that the EPA had preapproved the use of Corexit, manufactured by Nalco Company, even though it is illegal in parts of the United Kingdom. On May 19th the EPA did call for a less harmful dispersant, but BP was following relevant regulations. Consequently BP introduced Corexit 9527, rather than 9500, although 9527 only includes one extra ingredient, an additional form of ethanol.

The Emergency Committee to Stop the Gulf Oil Disaster disputes BP’s claims of Corexit’s relative non-toxicity and alleges use of dispersants close to shore, contrary to statements on BP’s website. On Thursday, July 22nd, outside the Deepwater Horizon Command Center in New Orleans, the group held a protest and press conference to advocate the end of dispersants in the Gulf.

They promoted a consensus statement of leading marine scientists that oppose chemical dispersants in the Gulf and assert “Corexit dispersants, in combination with crude oil, pose grave health risks to marine life and human health, and threaten to deplete critical niches in the Gulf food web that may never recover.”

The group also highlighted illness numbers from Louisiana’s Department of Health and Hospitals. As of Monday, July 27th, the DHH reports that 324 individuals, including 83 from the general public, have exhibited injuries of illnesses attributable to the oil spill.

A BP Deputy Area Commander, Tom Pennington, attended the event and received the written requests of those present. Although he did not accept questions, he told organizers “we’ll take all your demands, and we’ll give them to reading [sic] and take care of them.”

Alternative dispersant manufacturer, Green Earth Technologies, received EPA approval on July 7th for its G-Marine surface washing agent, after four laboratory studies. Their dispersant, made from harmless ingredients such as cactus, potato peelings, orange juice, and palm extracts, is biodegradable in 72 hours and is half the price of Corexit. However, after the more than two-month approval process they were not able to negotiate an agreement with BP in time to have an impact on the offshore clean up. Sales representative, Greg Rendon, says the company is now “focusing on oil that is inland… the beaches, marshes, and waterways.”

Fergus Hodgson is the capitol bureau reporter with the Pelican Institute for Public Policy. He can be contacted at fhodgson@pelicanpolicy.org, and one can follow him on twitter.