Most of us are all too familiar with the BP oil spill that took place early this summer in the Gulf of Mexico. Mainstream media coverage of the catastrophe and controversy has pretty much ground to a halt, but the aftereffects of the oil and the dispersant used to help clean up the spill are still being felt by area residents. Fisherman and cleanup workers are currently seeking legal aide due to illness, which might be related to the chemical dispersant.
The dispersant in question, Corexit 9500, is a chemical originally developed by Exxon, a variant of which, Corexit 9527A, was first used in the 1989 Alaskan oil spill. It works like common household dish soap, only it is much more powerful. Corexit breaks up oil slicks into smaller globules and droplets that then intermix with seawater and get forced to the ocean floor, theoretically making clean up easier and preventing some of the oil from hitting the shoreline.
Corexit is not considered to be the most efficient means of cleaning and dispersing oil, and tests indicate that it varies between 54-63.4 per cent effective at dispersing and sinking oil depending on the type of Corexit used.
The material safety data sheet (MSDS), a system which informs workers about the risks of dealing with workplace chemicals, for Corexit 9527A says it can cause damage to the central nervous system as well as the liver and kidneys, and may lead to red blood cell hemolysis with prolonged exposure via inhalation and ingestion.
BP has admitted to spraying 1.9 million gallons of Corexit into the ocean. During the cleanup the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) instructed BP to find a safer alternative, however, according to
AlJazeera, the U.S. Coast Guard gave BP the necessary exceptions to use the dispersant and overruled the EPA 74 times in a 48-day period.
From April to mid-July the federal government reported 571 cases of illness related to cleanup and containment procedures. In many of the cases the workers reported dizziness and nausea.
Jarred Bourgeois was an engineer on a crew ship that carried supplies and workers out to the Gulf to assist in cleaning. When talking to WDSU.com, he said, “The smell is outrageous. People [were] getting sick all the time. They don’t really tell you what it is, why people are getting sick, but they were MedEvac-ing people left and right.”
Many cleanup workers are seeking legal aid for their illness. Lawyers representing the workers have hired toxicologists to study air and water samples near clean up zones.
Dr. William Sawyer, a toxicologist, found that some chemicals used to clean up the spill were used in amounts that could be lethal.
Just this past week federal scientists gave the OK that seafood from the Gulf is safe for human consumption and opened 96 per cent of the federal water in the Gulf for commercial and recreational fishing.
During the testing, approximately 1,735 tissue samples of seafood were done and only 13 of the samples came back positive for dioctyl sodium sulfosuccinate (DOSS), the main chemical agent in the dispersant. However, many of the seafood distributers are questioning this announcement and are hesitant to consume the possibly toxic wildlife.
Karen Hopkins is an employee for the seafood distributer Dean Blanchard Seafood in Louisiana. She told AlJazeera, “I will never again eat any seafood that comes from the Gulf of Mexico.”
When Corexit is used it breaks apart the oil into smaller droplets or clusters making them easier to clean. According to HuffingtonPost.com, in early July, biologists at the University of Southern Mississippi’s Gulf Coast Research Laboratory discovered traces of oil and Corexit particles in crab larvae, causing the scientific community to become concerned that the oil and dispersant was entering the food chain.
The researchers noticed orange blobs under the translucent exoskeletons of the crab larvae and have continued to find them in almost all of the samples they collect. Researchers from Tulane University studied these samples and determined that chemical makeup of the blobs were that of the main chemical ingredient used in Corexit.
“It does appear that there is a Corexit sort of fingerprint in the blob samples that we ran,” said Erin Gray, a biologist from Tulane University.
The Gulf oil spill will have a long-term and disastrous effect on the gulf economy, but economists say that it will vary industry to industry; the most immediate to be effected will be the seafood industry.
According to a Nola.com article “Louisiana seafood production has an estimated economic impact of $2.4 billion. Production of about 23 percent of that amount has been temporarily shut down by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration because of the oil spill.”