BP Won't Say What Toxics It's Dumping Onto Its Oil Spill

British Petroleum has in fact gone "Beyond Petroleum" and is now spilling tons of toxic chemicals known as dispersants onto their colossal oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, hoping to break up the slick before it reaches shore. However, BP refuses to disclose what chemicals are in the dispersants they are dumping into the Gulf. The chemical identities are considered trade secrets. Without knowing the chemical identities, we may never know what additional insults BP has left us to clean up for years to come.

Most view the use of these dispersants as a trade off – either disperse the oil throughout the water column and damage the aquatic life we cannot see, or let more come to shore and kill a lot of wildlife that we can see. (This "trade off" inaccurately assumes that life on shore is not connected to life deep in the water.) It is important to remember that using dispersants does not reduce the amount of oil being spilled. It does add secret chemicals whose environmental and public health impacts are poorly understood.

According to ProPublica, "The exact makeup of the dispersants is kept secret under competitive trade laws, but a worker safety sheet for one product, called Corexit, says it includes 2-butoxyethanol, a compound associated with headaches, vomiting and reproductive problems at high doses." The chemicals being used by BP are not the only dispersants on the market, and others may be less toxic.

In an interview with WUSF in Tampa, FL, the author of the ProPublica report, Abrahm Lustgarten, describes the secrecy: "We only know very generally [what chemicals are in these dispersants]…As far as the exact chemicals, the companies that make these products say that information is protected…meaning no one, the public or the EPA, knows exactly what the full list of ingredients is or what the ratios of those ingredients are."

A 2005 study by the National Research Council, Oil Spill Dispersants Efficacy and Effects, detailed the damage dispersants and the oil they leave behind can exact on marine life, including killing fish eggs and accumulating in mussels. More than 190,000 gallons of dispersant have been used so far.

By using dispersants to reduce the amount of oil floating on the surface, BP – and all other oil-spillers hoping to drill offshore - would be able to hide some of the problem temporarily. According to a marine biologist interviewed for the ProPublica article, "Right now there is a headlong rush to get this oil out of sight out of mind."

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