Friday, May 21, 2010

From Insult to Injury in the Gulf

The primary strategy in fighting the gulf oil spill is the use of chemical dispersants. Chemical dispersants are used to break oil into globules small enough for microbes to digest, thus breaking up slicks. In the 1989 Exxon Valdez Spill, a product called Corexit 9500 was used. Later, in a review performed by the Alaska Community Action on Toxics, Corexit was linked to respiratory, nervous system, liver, kidney and blood disorders in humans. It is not clear what it does to marine life. Corexit is itself a petroleum based product.
British Petroleum is using a petroleum based product know to have significant toxic effects on the oil spill in the gulf. It has failed to mention that large amounts of other significantly less toxic dispersants are also available.
Currently, of the 18 EPA approved dispersants, 12 have been found to be more effective than Corexit and according to EPA data, are both less toxic and more efficient. One of them, called Dispersit, manufactured by Polychem is not only more effective but water based and with one third the toxicity of Corexit. In addition it works in salt, brackish, and fresh water. This is especially significant in the gulf due to endangered marshland and estuaries.
So the question becomes, why is BP using a 20 year old dispersant to which safer alternatives have been developed and proved to have less toxic effects? The head of American BP claims it is because large amounts of Corexit were available.
This sounds reasonable enough except for the fact that Rodney F. Chase, an 11 year BP board member, also sits on the board of Nalco, the company that now manufactures Corexit. On the day Nalco announced it was providing large quantities of Corexit to be used on the gulf oil spill, its stock prices soared.
In other words, not only is British Petroleum responsible for the horrific deaths of 27 of its own workers and what is undoubtedly the worst environmental crisis in human history, its primary concern in the clean up effort is cutting costs by purchasing the cheapest dispersant on the market, one with documented toxic effects, and thereby lessening the size of the ding made in its profit margin.
Perhaps in the future, the decision makers at BP can aid the environment by sharing a corporate jet with the executives of Nalco. I’m sure they are very good friends by now.

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