Corexit's Deadly Legacy | The Jackal

20 Oct 2011

Corexit's Deadly Legacy

I received a very interesting email today. It's all about the poisonous substance known as Corexit 9500 that's been used on the Bay of Plenty oil spill by Maritime New Zealand.

What makes this email even more relevant is that the authorities didn't deliver any gloves to most of the people cleaning up the oil spill. That means the locals trying to clean up somebody else's mess often have inadequate protective equipment and will be exposed to deadly toxins.

Here's what Australian Ocean Protection Activist and Environmental Campaigner Ashiya Austin has to say about Corexit:
The news that NZ has opted to use the deadly Corexit dispersant in the Tauranga Port oil spill travelled like wildfire around the Internet environmental activist community yesterday.

That NZ would use this dispersant which has been banned in eighteen countries and has caused huge controversy in the US was greeted with shock and horror by many eco activists who have been watching and documenting the destruction it has caused in the Gulf of Mexico.

Marine toxicologist Riki Ott who has worked tirelessly to stop Corexit in the GoM says Corexit can cause havoc in a person’s body and lead to death.

Toxicologists agree that Corexit ruptures red blood cells, causes internal bleeding, allows crude oil to penetrate into the cells and into every organ system.

Not only is Corexit highly toxic, expert’s say it is less effective than other dispersants, and has actually worsened the damage caused by the oil spill.

At the beginning of the Corexit debate in the GoM, Toxicologist Dr. Susan Shaw, Founder and Director of the Marine Environmental Research Institute went diving into the oil spill to examine the chemicals present. Dr.Shaw told CNN "I can tell you what happens to people, because I was in the oil". She said she saw shrimpers throwing their nets into water, and water from the nets splashing on their skin.

One of these men, she said, experienced a headache that lasted three weeks. He had heart palpitations, muscle spasm and bleeding from the rectum. She said; "That’s what Corexit does, it ruptures red blood cells, causes internal bleeding and liver and kidney damage". She said that combined with oil Corexit is even more toxic and goes right through skin. That the solvents penetrate skin, taking oil into the cells and organs and this stuff is toxic to every organ system in the body.

According to John Sheffield a chemist with Alabaster, a Texan company specializing in bio remedial products, the oil industry is involved in a cover up of environmentally friendly products. This is to maintain a monopoly on their own products and to control the actual amount of "clean up" restoration or remediation they must do.

He says "The products the oil industry use (Corexit dispersant and booms) are made from petroleum. When the public sees them pouring the toxic dispersant Corexit into the spill, what they see is similar to watching an arsonist pour gas onto a fire, only from an environmental perspective".

Corexit dispersant, he says,is a hydrocarbon petroleum product just like paint thinner, lighter fluid, anti freeze or kerosene. Mr Sheffield says Corexit dispersants are the only solution the oil industry allows. The industry made money off Corexit as they poured it into the Gulf where it increased the contamination and dissolved the pollution to hide it.

The main ingredient in Corexit is an Exxon solvent line called Norpar. It is basically an oil industry waste product repackaged for sale. It was made by the oil industry for the oil industry to deal with (hide) it's own issue and it is an extremely outdated and hazardous answer. Mr Sheffield says "Even our own EPA data ranks Corexit as being 20 times more toxic, and far less effective than other dispersants."

Cleanup workers exposed to Corexit in the GoM experienced identical symptoms to those of the shrimper in Dr Shaw's report. At the height of the Corexit debate in the GoM, CNN reported that all workers using Corexit in the Exxon Alaskan oil spill of 1989 had died.

It is not only people working and living close to the spill in the Gulf who have been affected; there has been an epidemic of illness among residents and many reports of marine wildlife death.

Another report on Corexit states that the active ingredient of the toxic chemical dispersant, which is up to 60% by volume, is a neurotoxin pesticide that is acutely toxic to both human and aquatic life causes cancer and may cause reproductive side effects. It says the human health hazards are chronic.

In fact the neurotoxin pesticide that is lethal to 50% of life in concentrations as little as 2.6 parts per million has been banned for use in the UK since 1998 because it failed the UK “Rocky shore test” which assures that the dispersant does not cause a “significant deleterious ecological change” or to put that in layman’s terms it can kill off the entire food chain.

Corexit has also earned the highest EPA warning label for toxicity. The American EPA states that the effects of the toxic chemicals to the eye are corrosive resulting in irreversible destruction of ocular tissue and other tissue with corneal involvement along with a burning that can persist for more than 21 days. Those effects to human skin are corrosive resulting in tissue destruction into the dermis and/or scarring.

It does not take imagination to see how toxic this chemical is to marine life.

Corexit was widely used after the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill and according to a literature review performed by the group the Alaska Community Action on Toxics was later linked with widespread long lasting health impacts in people including respiratory, nervous system, liver, kidney and blood disorders.

The main ingredients of Corexit are 2-Butoxyethanol, which can make up to 60% of the dispersant and is known to be toxic to blood, kidneys, liver, and the central nervous system.

2-Butoxyethanol is also known to cause cancer, birth defects and has been found to also cause genetic mutations.

Corexit is listed as an environmental hazardous material; it contains Arsenic, Cadmium, Chromium, Mercury, and Cyanide.

The Alaskan report says that by BP’s own admission, Corexit has the potential for bioaccumulation, meaning it has the potential to accumulate in the tissues of organism beginning with the first organism in a food chain. 

Corexit is lethal in as little as 2.6 parts per million where oil is lethal in 11 parts per million, meaning that Corexit is over 4 times more toxic than oil.

Furthermore scientific studies show that oil dispersed with Corexit is 11 times more lethal than oil alone.

Perhaps the most astounding fact is that the American EPA ordered BP to stop using the dispersants but the company refused.  Armed with the facts of the chemical about to be unleashed in Tauranga, activists and scientists worldwide are now watching NZ.

Ashiya Austin

Australian Ocean Protection Activist and Environmental Campaigner ~ Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.