Environmental & Health Effects of Oil Dispersants a Mystery to BP and the Government

Dead fish from the BP gulf disasterU.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson questions BP's widespread application of oil dispersants in the Gulf of Mexico, as does everyone else. According to Jackson, the government is "uncharted waters" with the use of dispersants in the Gulf of Mexico. "The amount of dispersant being used at the surface is unprecedented," Jackson says. BP is also applying the chemicals in the sub-sea environment. In addition, dispersant is stopping oil from collecting on water surface, where it can be more easily controlled.

BP's Web site gives the impression that dispersants "clean and control" ocean oil spills by putting the oil in a state where "it becomes a feast for the naturally-occurring microbes that inhabit the ocean." But dispersants do not clean the water, nor do they remove oil at all, but rather re-arrange where it exists, and change where it goes.

A 3-D Environmental Problem

In the absence of significant scientific data describing their environmental effects, EPA has scrambled to perform short-term testing on dispersants. The agency issued a relatively benign assessment of the dispersants' effects, but private-sector toxicologists, biologists and other experts are warning about the unknown consequences of applying dispersants in such quantities. Corexit, the optimistically-named dispersant most favored by BP, essentially turns a two-dimensional problem of oil floating on the ocean's surface into a three-dimensional problem where oil gets mixed with dispersants and, through the action of microbes, changes into yet other chemicals that "we know absolutely nothing about," says marine biologist and toxicologist Chris Pincetich, Ph.D., who specializes in pesticides. EPA's short-term testing on dispersants may have showed little effect on fish, but chemicals that kill no fish within a deadline of 96 hours (EPA's deadline) can cause a 97% kill rate shortly beyond that deadline. Thus, short terms tests mean little, says Dr. Pincetich, who concludes that BP and, through its complicity, the government are essentially conducting a huge, environmental experiment on the Gulf "the likes of which we have never seen." Another area for which we lack data is the impact on air quality of of burning large quantities of oil and dispersant/oil mixture, as is also ongoing in the Gulf.

Swimming in the Dark: Little Data Available on Dispersants

Oil pooled on the surface is burned in the Gulf, polluting the airOn May 8, three Louisiana government agencies dealing with health, environment and wildlife jointly wrote a letter (pdf) to BP CEO Tony Hayward seeking information about the dispersants BP was using: "We have serious concerns about the lack of information related to the use of dispersants in fighting the oil spill at and below the surface of the Gulf of Mexico," the officials wrote, "and what, if any, impact the dispersants could have on our people, water and air quality, as well as the wildlife, fisheries and vegetation of Louisiana's coastline and wetlands." They sought data from BP on the short and long-term effects of the use of the dispersants on water, seafood stocks, humans and wildlife over time, and information on what resources BP had to restore wetlands and fisheries harmed by dispersants.

The government and BP both lack crucial scientific information about dispersants. Nevertheless, BP continues to apply them in massive quantities on the Gulf, and the government seems powerless to stop the company from using them. On May 23, EPA and the Coast Guard ordered BP to reduce its use of dispersant by 75 percent from its peak usage. Over the next month, though, BP reduced its usage only 68 percent, so application is still ongoing in one of the biggest environmental experiments ever performed.

You can see photos of the real impact of BP's oil blowout on the Gulf and its wildlife here.


Oil dispersant has a big effect in our environment, It has a very big effect..environmentalist should make some moves in order to prevent this problem so that at the first stage of the damage may be prevented. And a good governance is a prime at these problem.. I'm looking forward for this..

If you move the spill south of the gulf, without crossing the equator, you'll see it appear to shrink in size. If you move it North, it will appear to increase in size. The spill actually covers the same area on the map no matter where you place it, what changes is the map itself! Google Maps, and many maps we're used to looking at, use something called "Mercator Projection" in order to draw the spherical surface of the earth onto a flat plane. This projection distorts space as you move away from the equator in order to make the nice flat map you see. This means that a 100 square mile object placed at the equator will appear much smaller on the map than the same object placed closer to the poles. If you think about it, this makes sense -- if you were to wrap a string around the globe, you would need much more string to do so at the equator than you would further North, yet Google Maps portrays the Earth as a rectangle. You can read more about Mercator Projection on Wikipedia.

I find it incredible that BP didn't have in place a prepared plan for dealing with a situation like this. I know hindsight is a wonderful thing but the job of the top management of even medium sized companies is to think ahead, to anticipate rather than to react, particularly where health and safety are involved. Given the vast sums of money deployed in the oil industry, it cannot be unreasonable to have expected BP and ALL the other oil companies to have modelled any number of potential disaster scenarios, and to have had not only written contingency plans but also to have rehearsed the areas in practise which their modelling of such situations should have identified as being potentially serious or difficult to cope with. For Hayward to arrive AFTER the event has happened and start directing operations seems to be an immediate admission of negligence on a massive scale. And how much money would it have taken to test the potentially toxic effects of antidispersants? Even if it was $10million, it would have been peanuts! Management's job is to manage, not to try unsuccessfully to bolt the stable door after the horse has bolted. George

We should change our World Environment. We should take proper step and govt should help us. This is our world and we should change the environment and recover from end.....

This week everyone I have spoken to has said they were so tired they could barely function. When I realized everyone was complaining about this, I actually went & questioned a bunch of people. We live on the panhandle near the water. People are leaving work & going straight to bed. Kids are sleeping the entire weekend. I believe we have been poisoned as a result of the oil spill & dispersants. How do we get "real" information?

Well i was there breathing all the oil and dispersants and what id like to know is whats going to happen to all of us who were forced to breathe all that in for 4 months.