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article imageUS scientists question use of dispersants on Gulf oil spill

By Stephanie Dearing     Aug 4, 2010 in Environment
Senators and scientists are asking questions about the use of dispersants to tame the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, expressing concerns about the long-term impacts of what is being called a "toxic brew."
BP poured around two million gallons of a dispersant called Corexit on the surface oil during the attempt to gain control over the Deepwater Horizon oil spill that went unchecked for 100 days. Controversy has raged over the decision to use the chemicals to break up the oil slick, with many charging the chemicals are toxic. The EPA maintains the chemicals are safe.
Earlier this month, EPA employee Hugh Kaufman came forward to say the EPA knew Corexit was toxic.
The US Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works has scheduled an oversight hearing on the use of dispersants in the Gulf of Mexico for Wednsday, where toxicologist Dr. Ron Kendall will be testifying, as are three other scientists.
Kendall is expected to say there are no studies available showing Corexit is safe. Texas Tech University reported Monday that Ron Kendall said the "... unprecedented use of dispersants and the depths of their application on the oil spill have created an ecotoxicological experiment, and that scientists have yet to understand its full impact. Because the dispersants do not break down the oil, he fears they could create greater exposure of toxic aromatic hydrocarbons and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons to gulf fish and wildlife."
Kendall has just begun to study Corexit. In June, Kendall told Living on Earth that the Institute of Environmental and Human Health, which he heads, had difficulty obtaining Corexit to study. Living on Earth found that four other US universities also had difficulty obtaining Corexit for studies.
The universities might have experienced difficulty obtaining Corexit because BP had already named three institutions it had funded to study the effects of the dispersant on the oil. Then head of BP, Tony Hayward said "It is vitally important that research start immediately into the oil and dispersant's impact, and that the findings are shared fully and openly. We support the independence of these institutions and projects, and hope that the funding will have a significant positive effect on scientists' understanding of the impact of the spill." BP gave a total of $25 million to Louisiana State University, the Florida Institute of Oceanography and the Northern Gulf Institute (NGI) to create a base-line study for future studies on Corexit.
The EPA just completed round two of its testing of eight different dispersants, which includes the two Corexit products used in the Gulf. In a statement issued Monday, the EPA said the dispersants were less toxic to organisms than the crude oil itself. The EPA found Corexit has the same level of toxicity as six other dispersants tested. The first round of testing by the EPA "... indicated that none of the eight dispersants displayed biologically significant endocrine disrupting activity.
... EPA believes dispersants should only be used sparingly and when absolutely necessary. Since the well was capped, only 200 gallons of dispersant have been applied to the Gulf, but constant monitoring continues. The results of the two phases of tests are helping to inform the Administration as the Federal Response Team evaluates the Congressionally-legislated oil spill response practices for future scenarios."
On Monday the Associated Press reported the EPA had given the all-clear for fishermen to take fish and shrimp from parts of the Gulf.
According to BP, "more than 1, 072,514 gallons" of dispersant was applied to surface oil, with "more than 771,272 gallons" used underwater.
Dr. Todd Anderson, a colleague of Dr. Kendall, said it was important to study the dispersant because “The dispersant doesn’t dissolve oil, but it breaks it down into smaller droplets that then hopefully make it more amenable to biodegradation. But, that could make the oil more available to be taken up by an organism. That’s one of the questions we’re trying to answer. You see these pictures of birds and crabs getting oiled and that tears your heart out. But that’s a physical effect, not a chemical effect. And so, the real interesting chemical questions are the potential interaction of Corexit with crude oil, and what effect does that have on uptake into animals.”
The Environmental Defense Fund said of the list of 18 dispersants approved for use by the EPA, the Corexit products were the least effective and among the most toxic.
In spite of the disappearance of surface oil in the Gulf now that the oil spill has been temporarily halted, concerns over safety are growing.
BP began its latest attempt to pemanently cap the Deepwater Horizon on Tuesday.
Last month, Market Watch reported BP will likely claim a tax break of $9.9 billion because of the oil spill.
There is an interesting relationship between the company that makes Corexit, BP and some key American financial interests. Corexit is made by Nalco; and BP is connected to Nalco through US tycoon, Warren Buffet. JP Morgan Chase Bank also holds shares in BP, according to BP. Goldman Sachs which has some interest in BP, also has interests in Nalco. JP Morgan Bank has interests in Nalco through loans made to the company.
More about Environmental protection agency, Deepwater horizon, Gulf mexico oil spill, Dipsersants, Corexit
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