After the spill, BP secured about a third of the world’s supply of dispersants, namely Corexit 9500 and 9527, according to The New York Times. Of the two, 9527 is more toxic. Corexit dispersants emulsify oil into tiny beads, causing them to sink toward the bottom. Wave action and wind turbulence degrade the oil further, and evaporation concentrates the toxins in the oil-Corexit mixture, including dangerous compounds called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), known to cause cancer and developmental disorders.
BP says that Corexit is harmless to marine life, while the Environmental Protection Agency has waffled, saying both that “long term effects [of dispersants] on aquatic life are unknown” and that data “do not indicate any significant effects on aquatic life. Moreover, decreased size of the oil droplets is a good indication that, so far, the dispersant is effective.”
But many scientists, such as Dr. William Sawyer, a Louisiana toxicologist, argue that Corexit can be deadly to people and sea creatures alike. “Corexit components are also known as deodorized kerosene,” Sawyer said in a written statement for the Gulf Oil Disaster Recovery Group, a legal consortium representing environmental groups and individuals affected by the Deepwater Horizon spill. “With respect to marine toxicity and potential human health risks, studies of kerosene exposures strongly indicate potential health risks to volunteers, workers, sea turtles, dolphins, breathing reptiles and all species which need to surface for air exchanges, as well as birds and all other mammals.” When Corexit mixes with and breaks down crude, it makes the oil far more “bioavailable” to plants and animals, critics allege, because it is more easily absorbed in its emulsified state.
Sawyer tested edible fish and shellfish from the Gulf for absorption of petroleum hydrocarbon (PHC), believed to have been facilitated by Corexit. Tissue samples taken prior to the accident had no measurable PHC. But after the oil spill, Sawyer found tissue concentrations up to 10,000 parts per million, or 1 percent of the total. The study, he said, “shows that the absorption [of the oil] was enhanced by the Corexit.”
In April 2012, Louisiana State University’s Department of Oceanography and Coastal Sciences was finding lesions and grotesque deformities in sea life—including millions of shrimp with no eyes and crabs without eyes or claws—possibly linked to oil and dispersants.
The shocking story was ignored by major U.S. media, but covered in depth byAl Jazeera. BP said such deformities were “common” in aquatic life in the Gulf and caused by bacteria or parasites. But further studies point back to the spill.
A just-released study from the University of South Florida found that underwater plumes of BP oil, dispersed by Corexit, had produced a “massive die-off” of foraminifera, microscopic organisms at the base of the food chain. Other studies show that, as a result of oil and dispersants, plankton have either been killed or have absorbed PAHs before being consumed by other sea creatures.
EcoRigs divers took water and marine life samples at several locations in the months following the blowout. Now, they and countless other Gulf residents are sick, with symptomsresembling something from a sci-fi horror film, including bleeding from the nose, ears, breasts, and even anus. Others complain of cognitive damage, including what one man calls getting “stuck stupid,” when he temporarily cannot move or speak, but can still hear.
“If we are getting sick, then you know the marine life out in the Gulf is too,”Kolian said. The diver and researcher completed an affidavit on human and marine health used in GAP’s report.
Kolian’s team has done studies of their own to alarming results. “We recently submitted a paper showing levels of hydrocarbons in seafood were up to 3,000 times higher than safety thresholds for human consumption,” he said. “Concentrations in biota [i.e. all marine life] samples were even greater.”