Dispersants Can Make Chemicals from Oil Airborne … Exposing Coastal Residents to Toxins

PhD toxicologist Chris Pincetich says that – even with a very good pilot spraying Corexit – the dispersant drifts onto land:

(Dr. Pincetich also says that the dispersant evaporates and then moves around).

The air force sprayed Corexit from C-130 military cargo planes.

And Corexit is apparently still – to this day – being sprayed in the Gulf. See this, this, this, this and this.

But drift is not the only manner in which dispersants sprayed in the Gulf can expose coastal residents to toxins.

It is well-known that microscopic droplets can easily become airborne.

The Wall Street Journal reported last month:

Oil from the ruptured well, broken down by sprays of chemical dispersants and held at depth by water pressure, has formed microscopic droplets ….

Two mechanical engineers from the University of Miami demonstrated in 2001:

When oil is spilled at sea, aerosols containing oil or chemical dispersants (when they are used to combat the oil spill) can be formed … This may result in oil aerosol exposure to response workers or the nearby public.

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In the case of oil spills in the sea, oil aerosols can be generated from wind-wave interactions, wave/ship interactions, and some other attendant natural or mechanical cleanup operations, just like usual marine aerosols. Those aerosols can contain volatile and toxic components. Another important factor is the use of chemical dispersants. The dispersing agents are used to break up the oil slicks into tiny droplets to provide bite-sized bits for oil-eating bacteria. The dispersants break down the interfacial tension between the water and the oil, causing the dispersant to enter the water column. During the initial stage of the dispersant application (maybe as short as minutes), it is possible for the dispersant and/or the oil dispersant droplet to become aerosolized.

They assume that the amount of material aerosolized might be doubled under 15 mile per hour winds.

In other words, the use of dispersants in the Gulf may have caused toxic chemicals within the crude oil (and the dispersant itself) to become airborne. With even a slight onshore breeze, this could be enough to expose coastal residents to toxic chemicals.

In addition to causing toxic chemicals to become airborne, the use of dispersants in the Gulf has also been counter-productive because:

  • The use of dispersants prevented clean up of the oil by skimming, by far the easiest method of removing oil from the water
  • The crude oil which does not become aerosolized sinks under the surface of the ocean, and can delay the recovery of the ecosystem by years or even decades
  • PhD toxicologist Ricki Ott says that dispersants make the toxins in crude oil more bioavailable to sealife, and scientists have found that applying Corexit to Gulf crude oil releases 35 times more toxic chemicals into the water column than would be released with crude alone

Given that the use of Corexit dispersant in the Gulf has so many negative affects, why was it used in such massive quantities?

In the video above, Dr. Pincetich explains that it was used because applying Corexit in the Gulf was simply cheaper for BP than actually cleaning up the oil. In other words, it cost less in the short-run for BP to buy a bunch of Corexit and dump it into the Gulf to break up and hide the oil than to pay people to clean up the oil.

And a senior EPA analyst says that government agencies have acted as “sock puppets” for BP regarding the use of dispersants.

And by using dispersants to break up and hide the giant oil slicks, BP and the government can pretend that it is “mission accomplished” … even though the use of Corexit may in reality ensure that the recovery of the Gulf, its seafood industry and its residents is delayed by many years.

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