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Gina Solomon’s Blog

EPA Tells BP to Switch to Safer Oil Dispersants: Good Move!

Gina Solomon

Posted May 20, 2010

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Today the EPA told BP that it must identify a safer and more effective dispersant within 24 hours, and must switch to safer dispersants within three days. This is very welcome news for health and the environment. BP should be required to use the safest and most effective approaches possible, rather than the most convenient or cheapest products. There are dispersants that have already been approved by EPA that appear to be both safer and more effective than the ones BP has chosen. Read this piece in the New York Times about the other dispersants that have been bypassed in favor of Corexit 9500 and Corexit 9527, the two products used to date.

My colleagues and I looked into the toxicity of the Corexit products that BP has been using, and we had concerns, especially for worker safety and for the health of fish and marine mammals. The ingredients in these products - even the 2-butoxyethanol which worries me most - might not be a problem if used in small amounts. But when we're seeing over 600,000 gallons of these chemicals poured into the toxic soup offshore in the Gulf, even modestly toxic chemicals can become a serious problem.

At their best, dispersants are no panacea. My colleague Regan Nelson summarized the trade-offs with dispersants well in her blog last week, saying: "Chemical dispersants have the effect of mixing oil throughout the water column.  During this mixing, the oil forms an oil-water emulsion, which is toxic (though not well studied).  Because the emulsion is mixed with water, it has the effect of doubling the volume of the contaminated area."  On the other hand, dispersants do seem to help keep oil out of the salt marshes and other fragile habitat and they reduce bird mortality, so they have some clear benefits.

I'm not an expert on the pros and cons of dispersants, or on their effects on marine life. But I do have some expertise on human health, and I also have some common sense. One important principle in medicine is that you pick the drug that is the most effective and has the fewest side-effects to treat the disease. As hundreds of thousands of gallons of dispersant was poured into the Gulf, I began to wonder if that principle was being considered here.

That's why I'm glad that EPA has stepped in. We need strong oversight of this clean-up. Nobody trusts BP to have the best interests of the workers, the public, or the ecosystem in mind as they make their decisions. EPA's action today shows that the Agency has the backbone to stand up to BP and that EPA remembers its mandate to protect human health and the environment. This announcement is a light in a time of darkness, and I feel strengthened and more hopeful about tomorrow.

Here is what dispersed oil looks like (photos from NRDC):

 Dispersed Oil near Breton Island

 Oil-Dispersant mixture in the water near South Pass

(Photos by NRDC, on Flickr, under Creative Commons licensing)

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RPMay 21 2010 01:52 PM

There are viable alternatives to offshore oil. Among these are: grid tie solar powre for charging electric cars like the Nissan cost equivalent compares to $2.60/gallon gasoline with no pollution. Biodiesel from soybean oil, used fry oil and methanol made from pig manure. Wake up NRDC!

Sandy CurtisMay 21 2010 03:54 PM

Hello Dr. Soloman,

First of all, Thank You for adding your expertise and your efforts to protect the oil spill workers.
I was a CA Fish and Game Warden, whose expertise was aquatic toxicity aka polution. After Valdez and OPA 90, coastal Resource Agencies were given alot more involvement in oil spills and were equal in rank with Coast Guard, (Unified Command).
I worked pollution and oil spill cases from 1989. After 200 responses, I developed severe health problems. Frequent "mystery" colds and severe sinus infections, forgetfullnes, disoriented, daily fevers (which lasted for 4 years), vertigo, skin rashes. I lost motor coordination and still have lost huge chunks of memory (for instance, I have no memory of "fire" and still get burned alot).
I saw Dr. Sheila Bastien up in Berkley and after extensive testing she diagnosed me with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity and moderate to severe neurological damage. Then I saw dr. Gunner Hueser, who did an "active" brain scan and found decreased left frontal activity and blood work showed myalin in my blood.
After filing a Workers Comp case, they sent me to a series of shrinks, who decided I suffered from a "Mood Disorder following exposurure to chemicals"!
I never received any treatment, because they firmly ruled out Both previous report, stating that Chemical sensitivity does not exist. I rfecently fired my lazy lawyer and will be closing my own case for the settlement and i have quite a fight ahead of me. I had to medicly retire in 1995 and by the grace of God and good air in Idaho, I still live. I am still neurologicly challenged (as my dear neighbors say) and somewhat functionall retarded, but life goes on.
Keep fighting for them! Remember also, the common people will be able to sue BP, but the State workers will have to go the the comp hell, I have been through. (Thank goodness, I kept good records.)
So if you ever need an oil spill poster child, feel free to call.
Sandy Curtis
God Bless!

Ronnie NimitzMay 21 2010 05:21 PM

I can't believe that the US Navy does not possess the technology i.e. subs, explosives etc.. to cap this well or make the repair. What gives?

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