Dispersants Might Be INCREASING Damage From Gulf Oil Spill

Everyone knows that the dispersants being dumped into the Gulf oil are toxic. As I wrote Friday:

Highly toxic dispersants have been used to try to break up the oil. See this and this. Not only are dispersants being released underwater, but the air force is also dropping dispersants on the slick from above.

The official information for the dispersant reveals problems:

OSHA requires companies to make Material Safety Data Sheets, or MSDSs, available for any hazardous substances used in a workplace, and the ones for these dispersants both contain versions of a disturbing statement.

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Both data sheets include the warning “human health hazards: acute.” The MSDS for Corexit 9527A [the dispersant apparently being used in the Gulf] states that “excessive exposure may cause central nervous system effects, nausea, vomiting, anesthetic or narcotic effects,” and “repeated or excessive exposure to butoxyethanol [an active ingredient] may cause injury to red blood cells (hemolysis), kidney or the liver.” It adds: “Prolonged and/or repeated exposure through inhalation or extensive skin contact with EGBE [butoxyethanol] may result in damage to the blood and kidneys.”

And see this.

Indeed, the specific dispersant being used is more toxic and less effective than other alternative dispersants, perhaps because of BP’s connections to the manufacturer.

In addition, new questions have arisen as to whether the dispersants might actually being increasing damage from the oil itself.

As the Christian Science Monitor notes today:

More relevant could be the dispersant that BP is applying to the oil at the source. BP officials have hailed the process as a success, noting diminishing oil at the surface. But the dispersant breaks the oil into smaller drops, which might instead be spreading throughout the water column, instead of rising to the surface.

Similarly, Agence France-Press writes:

Researchers from the National Institute for Undersea Science and Technology said the [large underwater] plumes were “perhaps due to the deep injection of dispersants which BP has stated that they are conducting.”

The Christian Science Monitor points out:

It is not clear what this would mean environmentally, though past research indicates that oil can be trapped in the seabed for decades after oil on the surface is cleaned away.

Moreover, as Greenpeace marine biologist and oil spill expert Paul Horsman explains, using dispersants and oil booms are competing strategies. Specifically, breaking something down into tiny bits and dispersing it throughout a mile-plus deep and hundreds-miles wide region (the reason massive amounts of dispersants are being applied at the 5,000 foot-deep spill site as well as at the surface) makes it more difficult to cordon off and contain oil on the surface (the reason booms are being used).

Shouldn’t the use of dispersants be stopped until scientists figure out whether they will make things better or worse?

Updates: Even “Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the government’s point man for the crisis, said the breakup has complicated the cleanup. “

And see this.

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