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Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Use of Dispersants in the Gulf Oil Spill

On Tuesday this week, the EPA reported on a new study that showed the oil dispersants being used in the Gulf of Mexico are no more toxic than the oil is by itself. BP has been using a dispersant called COREXIT® which is made by Nalco Energy Services. It breaks up the leaked oil into little biodegradable droplets and as they sink to the sea floor, they continue to degrade and are eaten by bacteria. That sends them harmlessly into the food chain.

From the Other Side

Also on Tuesday this week, some news reports were accusing BP of using too much oil dispersant, based on documents that were released by the congressional subcommittee on Energy and Environment. According to these documents, the EPA and the Coast Guard ordered BP in May to use dispersants only on rare occasions. Reports do not say why they issued this order. For each rare occasion, BP was to request an exemption and wait for permission to be granted. BP subsequently requested 74 exemptions which were all granted by the Coast Guard.

Members of the Energy and Environment subcommittee are accusing the Coast Guard of granting too many exemptions. "BP carpet bombed the ocean with these chemicals, and the Coast Guard allowed them to do it,” said Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA). “After we discovered how toxic these chemicals really are, they had no business being spread across the Gulf in this manner."

However, Markey went to law school in the 1960s and is not trained in chemistry or oil drilling. He lives and works far from the Gulf. Presumably the Coast Guard personnel who are working on the oil problems are better informed about what actions might be beneficial than any Massachusetts politician.

OSHA and NOAA Find the Dispersants Safe

Since June 24, the federal government has acknowledged the effectiveness of COREXIT. On that date, a press briefing was held with Jordan Barab, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA and Thad Allen, the Coast Guard National Incident Commander. About OSHA’s oil spill monitoring program, Barab said:

  • “We have been taking samples again, of worker chemical exposures. Again, on the beaches, in the swamps, on the boats, everywhere that workers are. And I will just let you know … that we have found no exposure levels to any chemicals that are of any concern.”

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) also issued a report on monitoring they had done around the Deepwater Horizon wellhead. The report stated that the oil dispersant is working well in that area, having brought the water’s oxygen levels back to normal (which would have been lowered by the oil, thereby threatening marine life). NOAA’s website gives all their data.

One Alex Kilker, who is a scientist with the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium on Cocodrie, had studied the marsh grasses in Barataria Bay which had been discolored by crude oil. They now are showing a lot of new growth and Kilker stated:

  • “You have to remember that these grasses normally live in pretty difficult conditions. They face changes in water levels and salinity changes on a consistent basis. They face flooding, freshwater from rain or the river. It's not surprising it's a hearty species.”

The Cochran Firm attorneys are ready to help if you have been injured by the Gulf of Mexico oil spill or the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig. Please contact us today to schedule a free case review.


posted by Benjamin A. Irwin at 9:50 AM

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