Dispersants Can Make Chemicals from Oil Airborne ... Exposing Coastal Residents to Toxins → Washingtons Blog
Dispersants Can Make Chemicals from Oil Airborne ... Exposing Coastal Residents to Toxins - Washingtons Blog

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Dispersants Can Make Chemicals from Oil Airborne ... Exposing Coastal Residents to Toxins

PhD toxicologist Chris Pincetich says that - even with a very good pilot spraying Corexit - the dispersant drifts onto land:

(Dr. Pincetich also says that the dispersant evaporates and then moves around).

The air force sprayed Corexit from C-130 military cargo planes.

And Corexit is apparently still - to this day - being sprayed in the Gulf. See this, this, this, this and this.

But drift is not the only manner in which dispersants sprayed in the Gulf can expose coastal residents to toxins.

It is well-known that microscopic droplets can easily become airborne.

The Wall Street Journal reported last month:

Oil from the ruptured well, broken down by sprays of chemical dispersants and held at depth by water pressure, has formed microscopic droplets ....
Two mechanical engineers from the University of Miami demonstrated in 2001:
When oil is spilled at sea, aerosols containing oil or chemical dispersants (when they are used to combat the oil spill) can be formed ... This may result in oil aerosol exposure to response workers or the nearby public.


In the case of oil spills in the sea, oil aerosols can be generated from wind-wave interactions, wave/ship interactions, and some other attendant natural or mechanical cleanup operations, just like usual marine aerosols. Those aerosols can contain volatile and toxic components. Another important factor is the use of chemical dispersants. The dispersing agents are used to break up the oil slicks into tiny droplets to provide bite-sized bits for oil-eating bacteria. The dispersants break down the interfacial tension between the water and the oil, causing the dispersant to enter the water column. During the initial stage of the dispersant application (maybe as short as minutes), it is possible for the dispersant and/or the oil dispersant droplet to become aerosolized.
They assume that the amount of material aerosolized might be doubled under 15 mile per hour winds.

In other words, the use of dispersants in the Gulf may have caused toxic chemicals within the crude oil (and the dispersant itself) to become airborne. With even a slight onshore breeze, this could be enough to expose coastal residents to toxic chemicals.

In addition to causing toxic chemicals to become airborne, the use of dispersants in the Gulf has also been counter-productive because:
  • The use of dispersants prevented clean up of the oil by skimming, by far the easiest method of removing oil from the water
  • The crude oil which does not become aerosolized sinks under the surface of the ocean, and can delay the recovery of the ecosystem by years or even decades
  • PhD toxicologist Ricki Ott says that dispersants make the toxins in crude oil more bioavailable to sealife, and scientists have found that applying Corexit to Gulf crude oil releases 35 times more toxic chemicals into the water column than would be released with crude alone
Given that the use of Corexit dispersant in the Gulf has so many negative affects, why was it used in such massive quantities?

In the video above, Dr. Pincetich explains that it was used because applying Corexit in the Gulf was simply cheaper for BP than actually cleaning up the oil. In other words, it cost less in the short-run for BP to buy a bunch of Corexit and dump it into the Gulf to break up and hide the oil than to pay people to clean up the oil.

And a senior EPA analyst says that government agencies have acted as "sock puppets" for BP regarding the use of dispersants.

And by using dispersants to break up and hide the giant oil slicks, BP and the government can pretend that it is "mission accomplished" ... even though the use of Corexit may in reality ensure that the recovery of the Gulf, its seafood industry and its residents is delayed by many years.


  1. "Given that the use of Corexit dispersant in the Gulf has so many negative affects, why was it used in such massive quantities?"

    To hide the problem under the rug. That's what happens when you put the fox (BP) to watch the chickens. They only care about their legal responsibility in form of payments.

    BP should have been expropriated and sold in pieces to pay for the damages and cost of clean up. Instead it was given almost full power over the damage prevention and clean up operation. And the government is so implicated by now that they can only keep supporting this self-defeating plan because otherwise they'd be admitting their own responsibility and guilt in all the issue and become politically and legally liable. Republicans, and in general all the political and business classes, are anyhow as much implicated as far as I can see because otherwise this would be a first page ongoing scandal.

    It is indeed a scandal capable of severely undermining the whole credibility of the system and the more time passes the worst it becomes, so they feel even more urge to hide the poisoning and pollution. It's an unsustainable approach but somehow they believe they can get away with it.

  2. I am not surprised by any of this. We have been seeing reports for months of black rain, weird oily haze and sick people, all of it.

    The point of dispersants is to break the oil down quicker. One aspect of weathering is outgasing. They call it evaporation. And that leads people to assume that means the bad stuff is gone. Nope, its just in the air now. Either as a gas, a mist or particulate matter.

    Heating will also cause Corexit 9527 to aerosolize. So imagine what happened with the burn offs, with the oil on the surface that had been sprayed underwater.

  3. I feel like there is an elephant in the room during all discussion of disaster-based health hazards to the Gulf Coast.

    The elephant is the staggering, jaw dropping chemical pollution that is everyday business as usual for the petroleum industry here. Millions of pounds a year of extremely dangerous and toxic compounds being released in a narrow geographical region with measurable health consequences was already the reality on the ground pre-oil-spill, just as it has been for the last 40 years.

    For easy reference, here are the pollution scorecards for Jefferson County in Texas and Calcasieu Parish in Louisiana (both along the Gulf Coast) showing the top 20 chemical pollutants released and their volumes. If you look at the top polluters they are all the petroleum industry. This should help put the discussion in some context.



    BP was not the first oil company to come along and stomp on the gulf environment. The sad part is that if you examine the local politics in these areas, pollution and the environment in general is almost a non-issue. There is a general attitude of acceptance that "this is the price we pay" for our economic lifeboat.

    If anything, local politicians try to outdo each other with favors to big business. When refinery expansions are announced, they are always accompanied with a dollar amount to be spent here and a number of jobs they will create.

    The local media takes pains to point out that jobs at the refinery support additional jobs in the service sector thus inflating the jobs count. The hundreds of thousands of pounds of new annual chemical pollution is never mentioned.

  4. Hi George,
    first I want to say how grateful I am for your continued coverage of the gulf oil volacano. please go to the link below and read and look at the graphs... see what corexit and the oil has done..
    the North Atlantic current is dead..this current is vital to the balance of Earths weather
    here is an excerpt from the article
    Life on this Earth Just Changed
    The North Atlantic Current is Gone

    The latest satellite data establishes that the North Atlantic Current (also called the North Atlantic Drift) no longer exists and along with it the Norway Current. These two warm water currents are actually part of the same system that has several names depending on where in the Atlantic Ocean it is. The entire system is a key part of the planet's heat regulatory system; it is what keeps Ireland and the United Kingdom mostly ice free and the Scandinavia countries from being too cold; it is what keeps the entire world from another Ice Age. This Thermohaline Circulation System is now dead in places and dying in others.

    This 'river' of warm water that moves through the Atlantic Ocean is called, in various places, the South Atlantic Current, the North Brazil Current, the Caribbean Current, the Yucatan Current, the Loop Current, the Florida Current, the Gulf Stream, the North Atlantic Current (or North Atlantic Drift) and the Norway Current.

    read and then please get-um!


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