The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) must be feeling worried. Rather than undertake new testing on Corexit, the dispersant dumped in the Gulf in huge quanities (and still being used according to eye witness reports), the recent EPA report in its Science Matters Newsletter issue on May 1st, 2012 simply reaffirms EPA reports from 2010 that the Corexit is “practically nontoxic”, and “slightly toxic”. Why release a “report” that redundantly suggests the EPA’s testing in 2010 was right all along, without additional testing? Could it be that internally the EPA continues to feel the heat and grapple with their decisions to allow the widespread use of the Corexit dispersants? Does the EPA feel the heat because health effects were included in the plaintiff’s settlement with BP, announced in March, 2012? The EPA must know that Corexit is still being used in the Gulf, as documented by numerous eye witnesses. Are they feeling that this “secret” could soon become a national issue?
Though all dispersants are potentially dangerous when applied in such volumes, Corexit is particularly toxic. It contains petroleum solvents and a chemical that, when ingested, ruptures red blood cells and causes internal bleeding. It is also bioaccumulative, meaning its concentration intensifies as it moves up the food chain.
So, what’s in the stuff? According to their data sheets, both 9500 and 9527 are composed of three potentially hazardous substances. They share two in common, organic sulfonic acid salt and propylene glycol. In addition to those two, Corexit 9500 contains something called “Distillates, petroleum, hydrotreated light,” while Corexit 9527 contains 2-Butoxyethanol. Frustratingly, the sheets don’t give exact information about how much of the substances are in the dispersants; instead they give ranges as a percentage of weight. For example, Corexit 9500 can be composed of anywhere from 10 to 30 percent petroleum distillates, while 2-Butoxyethanol makes up anywhere from 30 to 60 percent of 9527.
It turns out that dispersants are not -- and never were -- explicitly banned within three miles of the coast or in less than ten meters of water (the "nearshore environment") as federal officials with the USCG, EPA, NOAA, and others staunchly maintained. The Coast Guard and states can approve dispersant use in the nearshore environment on a case-by-case basis across the Gulf if the incident commander decides the toxic chemicals were "expected to prevent or minimize substantial threat to the public health or welfare, or to mitigate or prevent environmental damage" -- a statement that appears in both of the official Regional Response Team dispersant policies. In fact, neither of the (Alabama, Mississippi, and Florida) or (Louisiana) have any areas where dispersant use is expressly banned. Louisiana even has an for requests to spray dispersants in the nearshore environment.