Join 3,556 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Corexit Blues
December 7, 2010 2:13 PM   Subscribe

Corexit [Bing cache] is mostly what BP has used on the spill. There are a few things to know about Corexit. One is that is was banned in U.K. over ten years ago because it is so toxic, as in poisonous to humans and sea life. ... Corexit was also used on the Exxon Valdez spill. Now read carefully: Almost all the clean up workers who worked on the Exxon Valdez spill are dead. (previously)
posted by Joe Beese (45 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

 
The first link - from which the quote is taken - was what inspired this post. So I hope you'll wait the time it will take for even the cached page to load.

It is a firsthand report from Captain Peter Wilcox, master of the Greenpeace ship M.V. Arctic Sunrise, assessing the damage and decision making about the Deep Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
posted by Joe Beese at 2:13 PM on December 7, 2010


Wow. I really, really want to see the data on that Valdez stat. 2010 - 1989 = is 21 years, so you would expect to see people, perhaps lots of people, be dead from that group, just on the basic math. But if, presuming the average age of the crew was 20-30, you're talking about a whole lot of 40-50 year-olds dead from things besides, say, accidents, one of the leading causes of death in young men. Data, data, data, where's the data.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 2:22 PM on December 7, 2010 [5 favorites]


Maybe we could use some crude oil to clean up the Corexit.

The disgusting part is that (IMHO) BP's main motivation for using dispersant was to keep the oil off the surface and limit the size of the oil slick for PR purposes. That's also why they spent so much energy denying the existence of huge underwater plumes of dispersed oil. Out of sight, out of mind, etc.

Of course, I would expect nothing less from BP. The question is, why (as Captain Wilcox asks) did the Coast Guard/EPA/other agencies allow them to pour massive amounts of a known toxin directly into our coastal waters??
posted by Salvor Hardin at 2:25 PM on December 7, 2010 [4 favorites]


Previously.
posted by chavenet at 2:31 PM on December 7, 2010 [16 favorites]


The question is, why (as Captain Wilcox asks) did the Coast Guard/EPA/other agencies allow them to pour massive amounts of a known toxin directly into our coastal waters??

I'm gonna go out on a limb and speculate that it has something to do with truckloads of cash changing hands.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 2:34 PM on December 7, 2010 [6 favorites]


But if, presuming the average age of the crew was 20-30, you're talking about a whole lot of 40-50 year-olds dead from things besides, say, accidents, one of the leading causes of death in young men
good concern, but it seems like that isn't the case.
In fact, the expert that CNN had on said that the life expectancy for those who worked to clean up the Exxon Valdez oil spill is only about 51 years
which is less than the average of 73-76 for people in that age range during the disaster
posted by tmcw at 2:36 PM on December 7, 2010


"...are you sure you want to volunteer to be on a cleanup crew down there? After all, the American Dream is not to make big bucks for a few months helping BP clean up their mess and then drop dead 20 or 30 years early."

Yeah, fuck that shit! Let BP clean it up themselves!

What? You called them and they said no? Oh fuckin' well!!
posted by not_on_display at 2:43 PM on December 7, 2010


Sure, we'd expect to see some deaths, but the question is, do we see a non-normative curve for this population?

We'd really like to see the data, true.

Of course, the only people that have some of this data are the petro-chemical companies involved, and for some reason, they don't seem to be sharing.

At this point I am no longer inclined to give these companies the benefit of the doubt. I'm just /unreasonable/ like that.
posted by clvrmnky at 2:44 PM on December 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


As Chavenet's Ask MeFi link shows, credibility on this one is low, with 2 MeFites for AK weighing in to say it's BS. BusinessInsider is a notoriously poor source, and one claim on CNN doesn't rise to the level of verified fact.

But there's money in selling fear.
posted by anigbrowl at 2:45 PM on December 7, 2010 [11 favorites]


"It's their mess, so let them clean it."

No, they made it, but it's our mess. We all get to share in it.
posted by Eideteker at 2:53 PM on December 7, 2010


Interestingly, when you look at the list of Corexit ingredients, one of the lines is "Distillates (petroleum), hydrotreated light".

That's right: we're dumping refined oil into the Gulf the clean up the crude stuff.
posted by Dr.Enormous at 2:56 PM on December 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


BusinessInsider is a notoriously poor source

Cite?
posted by Joe Beese at 2:56 PM on December 7, 2010


But there's money in selling fear.

I think there's also money to be made in denying that the solution you pumped by the barrel-ful into the body of water where you were already letting loose with barrel after barrel of another toxic substance is itself toxic.
posted by hippybear at 2:56 PM on December 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


Leonard Lamb, who lives in Anchorage, spent the summer of 1990 with a container of Inipol strapped to his back as he scrambled over rocky beaches spraying oil patches. "That stuff would eat the seals on the backpacks," he says. "Essentially, you'd be spraying and it would be running down your back and neck. You'd be coated with it." Lamb and his colleagues asked about the chemical. "We were told there was absolutely nothing to worry about," he recalls. "I took their word for it."

WHY?!

WHY WOULD YOU TAKE THEIR WORD FOR IT?!
posted by infinitywaltz at 2:56 PM on December 7, 2010 [5 favorites]


In the same vein there is a steady stream of videos hitting YouTube (and consistently given prominence on places like DemocraticUnderground) purporting to show an ongoing catastrophe in the Gulf region with all the fishermen and residents getting sick, kids getting sick, seafood contaminated, etc. none of which jibe with what those of us who live here are seeing. Whatever their reason there are some people with an agenda working hard to create an impression that this thing was much worse than it's been.
posted by localroger at 2:57 PM on December 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


That's right: we're dumping refined oil into the Gulf the clean up the crude stuff.

That's just good business sense.
posted by TwelveTwo at 2:57 PM on December 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


The Corexit = death link is pretty weak here. Crude oil contains a ton of nasty shit that is known to fuck up your heart, lungs, kidneys and cause chromosomal damage. A JAMA (subscription only) editorial published around the time of the oil spill concentrates on the VOCs and not the dispersants. More discussion here.
posted by electroboy at 3:02 PM on December 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


That's just good business sense.

Actually, that was my thought. Instant demand!
posted by Dr.Enormous at 3:02 PM on December 7, 2010


Read Houstonian's comment on AskMe for a good response to this scaremongery bullshit.

The longer entry is interesting to read, but really not worth the three minute wait for the Bing cache. The actual blog has yet to load (five minutes or so).
posted by klangklangston at 3:16 PM on December 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


This all is fat with leading statements, but where's the actual meat? I mean none of the actual ingredients that we know about in Corexit sound all that toxic and, really, if some one cared, they could work out all the "SECRET! - wooooo - isn't that scary kids!?!?!?!" ingredients in a modestly equipped lab. The "everyone who worked on the Exxon Valdez spill" thing seems almost entirely unsupported by data.

Now if I were the people who made/decided to use this stuff and if I knew it would create a detectable blip in the death rate leading to outrage and brouhaha and all sorts of things that would interfere with my plans of global domination, I would set up some sort of boy who cried wolf so that when the blip was found it was such a pittance relative to the "EVERYONE WILL DIE!" statistic that has been noised about, people would lash out against the people who were ranting rather than the people who carelessly (or knowingly) sent a couple thousand people to an early demise, in much the same way that they freak out about terrorism, but are remarkably blasé about things that pose a much greater danger. Then I'd laugh maniacally, stroke my Persian cat. After that, I'd make idle chat with a few of my black jumpsuit clad guards, feed some English guy in a tux to sharks and then spend some quality time flirting with that shameless assassin in the gold Lamé bikini.

But that's just me.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 3:20 PM on December 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


Cite?
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
posted by anigbrowl at 3:24 PM on December 7, 2010 [5 favorites]


That's right: we're dumping refined oil into the Gulf the clean up the crude stuff.

Like dissolves like.
posted by peeedro at 3:27 PM on December 7, 2010


2

Damning indeed.

Business Insider, which has established itself as an aggressive online source of a wide range of business news and commentary, has raised $3 million in its latest funding round.
posted by Joe Beese at 3:29 PM on December 7, 2010


Goddamnit, if only we in Iowa had caucused for Hillary, none of this would have happened! Oil spill? On it! Fixed! Now on to fighting for the working classes with a bold, united and unstoppable Democratic party!
posted by TrialByMedia at 3:35 PM on December 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


WHY WOULD YOU TAKE THEIR WORD FOR IT?!

Because, sadly ... tragically ... the cleanup work represented a lot of money for an area that doesn't exactly have a whole lotta jobs. And besides, it's Alaska in 1989 and you're not exactly a rocket surgeon. Someone tells you it's OK and offers to throw wads of cash at you ... how hard are you going to look that gift horse in the mouth?
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 3:35 PM on December 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


Given that we haven't seen any evidence that everyone is dead, I'm not sure we really need to figure out why they're dead just yet.
posted by electroboy at 3:37 PM on December 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Also, from the Corexit Wikipedia entry:
In 2010, Corexit EC9500A and Corexit EC9527A are being used in large quantities in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.[5][6] The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had pre-approved both forms of Corexit for uses in emergencies such as the Gulf oil spill.[7] Corexit 9580 was used during the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill disaster in Alaska.
So, it's not even clear that it's the same product.
posted by electroboy at 3:41 PM on December 7, 2010


BP: Putting the exit in Corexit for 21 years.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 4:11 PM on December 7, 2010


Almost all the clean up workers who worked on the Exxon Valdez spill are dead.

Cite please. That Business Insider article seems to be full of shit. As a life-long Alaskan I personally know people who volunteered for the beach clean-up. None of them are dead or having weird health problems.
posted by D.C. at 4:18 PM on December 7, 2010 [3 favorites]


Wow...no idea one of our esteemed mods was so deeply involved in oil spill cleanup. Sincerely, a dyslexic.
posted by mreleganza at 4:47 PM on December 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Wow. I really, really want to see the data on that Valdez stat. 2010 - 1989 = is 21 years, so you would expect to see people, perhaps lots of people, be dead from that group, just on the basic math. But if, presuming the average age of the crew was 20-30, you're talking about a whole lot of 40-50 year-olds dead from things besides, say, accidents, one of the leading causes of death in young men. Data, data, data, where's the data.

This. I initially chuckled when I read the they're all dead part. I thought it was a joke. In a Kent Brockman-The Killbot Factory vein.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 4:48 PM on December 7, 2010


hydrotreated light

Woah!
posted by uncanny hengeman at 4:50 PM on December 7, 2010


I remember when one of the angles the JFK conspiracy folk were pushing was that too many players/witnesses had died under questionable or unknown circumstances. Gerald Posner's Case Closed disproved that one for me (although I haven't reread since the plagiarism scandal). It seems that a whole lot of those people probably knew each other and were in organizations together. I think someone might have put 2 and 2 together before this.
posted by SkinnerSan at 4:54 PM on December 7, 2010


After all, the American Dream is not to make big bucks for a few months helping BP clean up their mess and then drop dead 20 or 30 years early.

We are miners, hard rock miners
posted by nervousfritz at 7:53 PM on December 7, 2010


I mean none of the actual ingredients that we know about in Corexit sound all that toxic and, really, if some one cared, they could work out all the "SECRET! - wooooo - isn't that scary kids!?!?!?!" ingredients in a modestly equipped lab.

"...that we KNOW about..." "...That we KNOW about..."

Proprietary formulation means proprietary formulation, buddy.

Oil is not good for you. Good chemists don't suck solvents.
posted by peppito at 8:03 PM on December 7, 2010


Personal anec-data point here: I have a close relative who worked with NOAA mapping the BP spill. He poo-poo'ed the British findings of toxicity for Corexit claiming in that study it was sprayed full-strength on marine organisms; very different from how it is encountered in use. His point being that the difference between poison and cure is the dose. He also claims actual damage to the shoreline is almost nil, mainly due to the dispersant. FWIW he is a trustworthy eco-friendly type of fellow.
posted by Mei's lost sandal at 8:29 PM on December 7, 2010


Wow. A lot here. Sorry for being so late to the party.

Some comments:

In 2010, Corexit EC9500A and Corexit EC9527A are being used in large quantities in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.[5][6]

True. More dispersant was used during the MC-252 spill in the Gulf of Mexico than in any other in history by factors of something like 100.

BP: Putting the exit in Corexit for 21 years

Not true. Wrong corporation. Both of these are oil spill dispersants made by Nalco, a spin-off of Exxon (not yet Exxon-Mobil) following the Valdez spill. Formulations were indeed secret until about mid Jun, early July when Nalco voluntarily disclosed their ingredient list.

Speaking of which: ...one of the lines is "Distillates (petroleum), hydrotreated light". That's right: we're dumping refined oil into the Gulf the clean up the crude stuff.

That's true for Corexit 9500A. It's biggest ingredient, something like 75 to 80% is dearomatized distillates. If you want a solvent to carry something that will be oil soluble, you need something that is itself oil soluble. Nalco chose mineral oil, pretty much the same stuff sold as baby oil or laxatives.

A quick thumbnail on dispersants:

Dispersants are applied to oil on water sprayed from a ship or by air to break up the surface slicks of oil and disperse it into the water column, down into the top 10 m or so. The idea is that dispersant makes the oil more available to native bacteria and other micro-organisms to attenuate the oil more quickly than if one left it alone. Dispersant use is a mitigating technique. It spreads the oil slick into the water, increasing the toxicity of the water, but removing the danger of stranded oil on shorelines. It is thought to enhance natural processes to mineralize oil rather than directly cleaning it up.

Almost all of the dispersant used during the MC-252 DWH gulf spill was applied by air. Better than 90% of it was 9500A. C9527 is the older formulation that uses the 2-butoxyethanol as a solvent (which is hepatotoxic, a stupid choice for a carrying solvent). Existing stockpiles of it were used up within days; for the remainder of the event fresh Corexit 9500A was used.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had pre-approved both forms of Corexit for uses in emergencies such as the Gulf oil spill.[7]

This is true. This is one of the required jobs of the EPA, to set safe limits for and to approve such products.

Corexit 9580 was used during the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill disaster in Alaska.

This is also true, but C9580 is not a dispersant. It is a surface washing agent, or a beach cleaner. It's purpose is to be a soap to help wash oil off of beach rocks and boulders. It's applied by being sprayed onto oil beached on a shore by hand, then left to soak for an hour or so, then removed by flooding the beach with a low-pressure water inundation. The contaminated flood water is collected in a shore boom and pumped off using big vacuums. Used correctly, a SWA is better than a dispersant. It directly removes oil from the affected shorelines.
posted by Anonymous 5$ Sockpuppet at 8:54 PM on December 7, 2010 [16 favorites]


I understand where the skepticism about the toxicity concerns is coming from. An example from Houstonian's quote: 2-butoxyethanol: In your home, you find this in Windex and Simple Green All-Purpose Cleaner. However, if you look at the MSDS for this chemical, you'll see that the NIOSH ILDH level (Immediately Dangerous to Life and Health) is 700 ppm in the air. Now, imagine that you have dumped 800,000 to 1,000,000 gallons of this stuff off the coast. This chemical has a vapor pressure of about 0.6 Torr, not especially volatile; but it can be aerosolized by the actions of waves and water evaporation.

Just because a chemical is present in small amounts in a household cleaner does not mean it's nontoxic. The sheer quantities of hydrocarbon dispersant here likely do pose a significant threat to your health.

On preview: if 9500A is the primary dispersant used, then that is less of a threat, according to what Wikipedia describes. However, I wouldn't advocate pouring a million gallons of it off the coast and then going for a dip.
posted by Existential Dread at 9:08 PM on December 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Oil chronic toxicity

More and more chronic health problems have been appearing in workers who have had weeks- or months-long exposures to oil during spill clean up operations. There were reports from Erika and Prestige workers in the late 90's, early 2000s' suffering long-term respiratory disorders: asthma's, pleursies, fluid in the lungs. There had been anecdotal evidence of this from the Valdez too, but no organized studies. There are reports now that the Heibei Spirit volunteers are suffering from the same effects.1

Dispersants were used on some of these spills, the Heibei Spirit and the Prestige, but these dispersants were not Corexit products, which are only used in NA and some parts of Australasia. Indeed the major common factor for all of these affected workers was the presence of oil, and in particular the BTEX and PAH aromatic compounds.

The volatile chemicals in oil are known to cause many acute effects in animals. The most common mode of action is termed narcosis, which means some disruption of the cellular membranes. This is similar to the way narcotics work with one key difference. Narcotics are generally metabolized quickly. Petroleum chemicals are removed much more slowly. They stay in membranes, continuing to inhibit cellular function. Thus, damage. The exact mechanism for this isn't clear.

The volatiles oil chemicals, especially the aromatics, are also very dangerous carcinogens, mutagens and teratogens. Exposure to these compounds is very bad news.

Dispersant chemicals themselves don't seem to have these toxic risks. The Corexit products have been tested extensively for the past 30 years or so. Last time I checked, I counted several hundred animal and plant tox studies for C9500A. Dispersants alone don't seem to have this action.

What dispersant does is make the oil more available to water-organisms. It isn't itself toxic, but it enhances the toxcity of the oil by increasing exposure. But this only really matters if you're a fish. It makes no difference to human respiratory exposure.

So, long story short: oil is very toxic to human workers. Exposure to the volatile compounds makes people very sick and these conditions seem to be very persistent, lasting years, perhaps even for life. There's no strong indication that dispersant application increases (or reduces) the human risk factors though. Exposure to oil vapours seems to be the major risk.

1I have all of these references, but they're not available to me at the moment. If people want them I'll have time to dig them out in a week or so.
posted by Anonymous 5$ Sockpuppet at 9:20 PM on December 7, 2010 [5 favorites]


By the way, I count several people from Prince William Sound and Cook Inlet Alaska among my friends and colleagues. I've known some of these people for more than a decade. The first time I heard of this claim was here.
posted by Anonymous 5$ Sockpuppet at 9:27 PM on December 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Almost all of the dispersant used during the MC-252 DWH gulf spill was applied by air.

Let me amend that to dispersant applied at the surface. A large amount of dispersant (all 9500A) was applied at the sea floor as well.
posted by Anonymous 5$ Sockpuppet at 9:29 PM on December 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


I would be interested to see the references when you have the time; thanks.
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:38 PM on December 7, 2010


If you want a solvent to carry something that will be oil soluble, you need something that is itself oil soluble. Nalco chose mineral oil, pretty much the same stuff sold as baby oil or laxatives.

Yeeesh. Now that I've had a lesson in chemistry my high school students could have worked out by themselves, can I go back to thinking it's funny?

(However, this whole "found in these things" is a total B.S. method of comparing the toxicity of something that is being dumped by the gazillion gallons into a major body of water, and I wish people would stop it. Large scale exposure with likely inhalation and possible ingestion is not even remotely comparable to smearing some around the house.)
posted by Dr.Enormous at 2:39 AM on December 8, 2010


The sheer quantities of hydrocarbon dispersant here likely do pose a significant threat to your health.

As do the sheer quantities of water used by firefighters. Each fire engine contains enough to drown several entire families. I think it's pretty dubious that they insist on hauling it around everywhere they go when the water that comes out of the tap is perfectly sufficient for everyone else's needs.
posted by anigbrowl at 12:29 PM on December 8, 2010


Also consider that the volume of the Gulf of Mexico is something on the order of 7x10^17 gallons of water. Obviously the dispersant isn't mixed evenly throughout the entire volume, but there's massive massive dilution.
posted by electroboy at 12:35 PM on December 8, 2010


« Older I am a writer, and I will finish the shit that I s...  |  "In six days every single livi... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments