Is BP Still Spraying Toxic Dispersants in the Gulf?

A chemist says he is still finding traces of a toxic dispersant in the Gulf even though BP supposedly stopped spraying the chemical in the water in April.The BP (BP) oil spill may be over, but controversy over the company's use of toxic oil dispersants in the Gulf of Mexico is still going strong. Although BP allegedly stopped using the chemicals more than a month ago, area residents claim it is still spraying Corexit, a chemical dispersant, from airplanes and boats.

Much of the furor can be traced back to Bob Naman, an analytical chemist who lives on the Gulf, in Mobile, Ala., and who owns his own lab. Naman initially became involved in the controversy through his neighbors, who were concerned about oil in their water. "People started walking in and asking me to test their water," he said in an interview with DailyFinance.

Soon, Naman was being sought out by the news. WKRG News 5, a CBS affiliate based in Mobile, asked him to test several water samples from various locations in their viewing area. He found that the samples contained between 16 and 221 parts per million of oil, often in water that appeared clean. In mid-August, while testing a sample from Margaret Long, a resident of Cotton Bayou, Ala., he also found 13.3 parts per million of Corexit, a chemical dispersant that -- according to Coast Guard commander Thad Allen -- BP had stopped using in mid-July.

Dangers of Dispersant

Here's where the story gets complicated. There are actually two versions of Corexit: 9527 and 9500. While both compounds have been linked to a variety of health problems, the first version, Corexit 9527, is particularly toxic. According to its safety sheet, the chemical can cause a wide range of symptoms, including nausea, vomiting, "anesthetic or narcotic effects" and respiratory tract irritation. Extensive or repeated exposure can cause permanent damage to blood cells, kidneys and the liver.

According to Nalco Holdings (NLC), which makes the compounds, BP stopped using Corexit 9527 in mid-April. But Bob Naman disagrees. Some of the water samples he's analyzed contain significant quantities of 2-butyoxyethanol, a major ingredient in Corexit 9527 that isn't included in Corexit 9500. Long's water sample also contained 2-butyoxyethanol.

Linked to cancer in lab animals, 2-butyoxyethanol also causes several cardiopulmonary problems, including low blood pressure, fluid collection around the lungs and coma. Considering that BP supposedly stopped using Corexit 9527 in April, it's hard to explain the compound's presence in the Gulf.

Sinking Oil

Naman admits that there are several possible explanations for the 2-butyoxyethanol that he found in Long's water: "One possibility is that it isn't biodegrading or that [BP] used more than they reported in the original spray. My best guess is that, in the quantities they've been using, it would take 4 to 6 weeks for it to biodegrade, but that is a guess."

A more likely explanation, Naman asserts, is that BP is still spraying Corexit 9527 in the Gulf. In addition to the 2-butyoxyethanol that he's found in the water, he also found large barrels of the chemical on Dauphin Island, Ala. "I didn't see evidence of it being sprayed," he emphasizes. "But I saw evidence of it being left there."

Other sources also claim BP is still using dispersants in the Gulf, ostensibly in an attempt to "sink the oil," or drive it below the water's surface. While this strategy breaks up oil slicks and reduces the danger to shorebirds, it's extremely dangerous for seaborne organisms, which can consume particles of oil, passing them up the food chain. Nalco spokesman Charley Pajor explained this Faustian bargain to the Chicago Daily Herald: "It's more toxic to marine life, but less toxic to life along the shore and animals at the surface because the oil is not at the surface."

As some critics have noted, oil that has sunk below the ocean's surface is also less visible, giving the impression that BP's cleanup operations have captured more of it. Unfortunately, given the area's extensive fishing industry, even invisible oil can be destructive, both to marine life and to the Gulf fishermen who rely on it to make a living.

At press time, BP hadn't responded to requests for comment.

UPDATE: BP Press Officer Daren Beaudo, BP stopped using Corexit 9527 on May 22, and stopped using Corexit 9500 on July 19. Here is the text of his statement:

"The last day of all dispersant use was July 19, so this was the last day of Corexit 9500 use. Unified Command has not used any dispersants since then. There's no more surface oil on which to use dispersant. ... Unified Command records indicate that the last date of use of the Corexit 9527 was May 22."

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August 29 2010 at 11:26 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I really don't care if they are spraying brown sugar and peabut butter if it tests good why worry...the media is the cause of all this nonsense ...the people of the gulf coast want to get back to life as normal and this only makes it worse ...give these people a break and stay at home with you one needs them ...

August 27 2010 at 8:58 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

What do you get when you combine NALCO and BP? BALCO. Dun dun dun!!!...And the plot thickens.

August 27 2010 at 6:47 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I suggest you look at the Wikapedia piece on 2 butoxyethanol. Reading an MSDS is an art which really needs to be learned. The odor threshold for the stuff is o.4 ppm (the concentration at which it can be smelled). The hazard threshold is 20 ppm. It is unlikely that hazardous concentration would be encountered without a strong odor giving it away. Nalco has no connection to BP that I know of except that of a suplier to a customer.

August 27 2010 at 3:47 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Our government is in total disarray. Corruption is rampant. In the long run, growing government means more poverty and a lower standard of living for all. Governments don't produce products and services that improve peoples lives. Government officials are like parasites which unless held in check will kill the host aminal that they feed from, leaving all to die.

August 27 2010 at 1:06 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply

We will see the results and outcome in the next 10 years. You don't throw a bandaid on a chopped off hand.

August 27 2010 at 1:04 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

I do know that you don't give poison to a sick person to make them better. BP sprayed an enormous amount of corexit in the Gulf of Mexico and it makes no sense at all to me why they were allowed to spray known toxic chemicals onto the Gulf. Where was the EPA, (asleep at the wheel?)when this was going on. If it is safe, they should prove it by drinking and bathing in it. I know that won't happen.

August 27 2010 at 12:38 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to flyingnunn's comment

Wrong, actually.poisons are frequently used as medication. The best example is chemotherapy, where the trick is to poison the tumor/lesion just enough to kill it (or weaken and mark it for radiation) without killing the patient in the process. How can the EPA be asleep at the wheel? I thought the current administration could do no wrong!

August 27 2010 at 2:41 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply

On further study, when Googling Nalco, there is no mention of BP execs and that the company was formed in 1928. Therefore, I don't know what if any the connection is between BP and Nalco, but would like to find out if in fact there is a connection.

August 27 2010 at 12:33 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply

According to an attorney which I spoke too, Corexit is owned and distributed by a company called Nalco. Nalco, according to the attorney, is a company formed by former BP execs. If that is the case, the money made a loop from BP back to BP execs(former). Something is very rotten in this scenario.

August 27 2010 at 12:28 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
Joe Volpe

What makes it more disturbing is that we have a non-toxic safe dispersant that is more effective and has been proven but BP has not considered using although we have contacted them many times, sent technical data as well as sample quantities for testing. Visit and look for Enviro-Safe and tell me if you were BP would you consider this as a safe alternative? Joe

August 27 2010 at 11:05 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply