Australia’s 60 Minutes television program aired a two-part exposé called “Crude Solution” this month, detailing the health effects that BP’s 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill had on residents of the United States’ Gulf Coast, and how the same dispersants used by BP are still being used in Australia. Specifically, “Crude Solution” focuses on the devastating effects of the chemical dispersants Corexit 9500A and 9527A.
The program includes interviews from Gulf Coast residents who were involved in the cleanup efforts of the BP oil spill who are experiencing health effects ranging from neurological disorders to tumors and cancer. In Mississippi, residents say, large clumps of tar are still washing ashore each day, and residents continue to document dying wildlife, particularly dolphins and turtles.
60 Minutes took a sample of freshly-collected tar balls from a Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, resident to Rip Kirby, a Coastal Geologist at the University of Southern Florida, for analysis. Using a simple UV light test, Kirby has been determining how long Corexit is able to remain in the environment. The tar balls collected this month in Bay St. Louis showed high concentrations of the chemical dispersant.
In April, a new report, Deadly Dispersants in the Gulf, found that BP’s use of Corexit to hide the massive amounts of oil spilled from their Macondo well caused more damage to human health and the environment than did the spill itself. The study was conducted by the Government Accountability Project and the non-profit Louisiana Environmental Action Network.
In 2011, the two groups began collecting data from citizens of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida. Their findings detailed devastating human health impacts consistent with those that Marine Toxicologist Riki Ott warned of, even during the Gulf Coast cleanup, after she experienced the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska and the viewed the subsequent health impact on humans and animals after the cleanup, which involved the use of Corexit 9580.
According to Ott, “The dispersants used in BP’s draconian experiment contain solvents such as petroleum distillates and 2-butoxyethanol. Solvents dissolve oil, grease, and rubber. It should be no surprise that solvents are also notoriously toxic to people, something the medical community has long known.”
Workers in the Exxon Valdez cleanup in 1989 suffered lingering health problems, including respiratory problems and flu-like symptoms, which became known as the “Valdez Crud.” Valdez workers continue to suffer from chronic health problems including, brain damage, heart issues, immune disorders, skin disorders, memory loss, and chronic fatigue. As with the workers in the BP oil spill cleanup, Valdez workers were told that the chemicals they used to clean Prince William Sound were safe.
When BP decided to use Corexit to hide the massive amounts of oil spilled due to its negligence, they told workers and the public that the chemical dispersant is “as safe as Dawn dishwashing liquid.”
According to the study on Gulf Coast residents and spill cleanup workers, those who came in contact with Corexit or were in or near spray zones experienced severe negative health effects, including: abdominal pain, bloody urine, heart palpitations, hyper-allergic reactions to processed food and common household cleaning or petroleum-based products, hypertension, inability to withstand exposure to sun, kidney damage, liver damage, migraines, multiple chemical sensitivity, neurological damage resulting in memory loss, rapid weight loss, respiratory system damage, nervous system damage, seizures, skin irritation, burning, lesions, sudden inability to move or speak for sustained periods, temporary paralysis, and vomiting episodes.
And it’s not just human health that has been affected. According to Iain Kerr, CEO of the non-profit whale research organization, Ocean Alliance, the sperm whale population in the Gulf of Mexico “may be the most polluted in the world.” Earlier this month, Kerr explained that the 2010 oil spill and BP’s use of Corexit on the spill, which caused the oil to sink and disseminate, is responsible for the toxins found in the whales’ bodies.
Kerr pointed out that because sperm whales are apex predators, meaning they, like humans, are at the top of the food chain, they are a good bioindicator of the Gulf ecosystem as a whole. Toxins absorbed by marine life from the bottom of the food chain up would eventually end up in the whales’ bodies.
Interestingly, no American major news networks or programs have reported on the health impacts of the BP oil spill.
Whistleblowers Speak Out About Dangerous Effects of Corexit
BP Responsible for “Most Polluted” Sperm Whale Population in the World
Watch: “Crude Solution” Part 1
Watch: “Crude Solution” Part 2
Alisha is a writer and researcher with Ring of Fire. Follow her on Twitter @childoftheearth.