The Product Used to Clean Up the Deepwater Horizon Spill Could be Choking Wildlife Out

A new study finds that oil dispersants can cause damage to human lungs and the gills of fish and other marine life.

A U.S. Air Force Reserve plane sprays Corexit over the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico on May 5, 2010. (Photo: Wikipedia)

Apr 6, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Taylor Hill is an associate editor at TakePart covering environment and wildlife.

An oil dispersant that was supposed to contain the Deepwater Horizon spill is leaving its own trail of environmental tears behind.

Corexit 9500—the dispersant most heavily used by BP to disperse oil in the Gulf of Mexico during the 2010 spill—may have caused lung damage in people involved in the cleanup process and gill damage to marine life.

The findings were published in the journal PLOS One on Friday, and this is just the latest scientific evidence that the 1.84 million gallons of cleanup products BP used to try to dissolve 210 million gallons of crude oil could still be wreaking havoc on the Gulf and its wildlife.

Corexit 9500 was sprayed aerially across a 305-square-mile area, leaving cleanup crews in the region susceptible to inhaling the product. The marine life got a taste shortly after as it ended up dispersed in the water column.

Researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham found that Corexit 9500 breaks down a certain type of cell tissue found in the walls of human lungs and the gills of zebrafish and blue crabs. The dying cells cause swelling and fluid development that block air passages in both lungs and gills.

More than 48,000 workers were potentially exposed to Corexit inhalation, said study author Veena Antony, a professor in the division of pulmonary, allergy, and critical care medicine at UAB. A number of workers ended up in emergency rooms along the Gulf Coast complaining of respiratory issues and asthma-like conditions.

“Cough, shortness of breath, and sputum production were among symptoms expressed by workers,” Antony said in a statement.

BP spokesperson Jason Ryan told The Times-Picayune that cleanup crews were never exposed to airborne concentrations of Corexit “that would be expected to result in any significant adverse health effects,” pointing to samples taken by BP and federal agencies during the cleanup.

TakePart wrote about BP’s intensive use of dispersants during the 2010 cleanup, including a more toxic version of the product called Corexit 9527. That dispersant was found to cause liver, kidney, lung, nervous system, and blood disorders in cleanup crew members following the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska.

Conservationists have questioned the use of either dispersant, noting that both were tested to be only marginally effective at dispersing Louisiana crude oil, and that alternative products some 10 to 20 times less toxic were available for use.

BP has also claimed in its own study that marine life in the Gulf of Mexico is on the rebound.

That was followed by the National Wildlife Federation’s March 30 report that concluded that least 20 species—including bottlenose dolphins, whales, and sea turtles—that call the Gulf and its 16,000 miles of coastline home were still suffering five years after the oil spill.