Home US & World News NEWS: EPA reveals toxic Corexit ingredients

NEWS: EPA reveals toxic Corexit ingredients

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On June 8, the EPA finally listed the ingredients of the products more than one million gallons of which BP has poured into the Gulf of Mexico.[1]  --  Blogger James Plummer noted that Corexit 9527 includes 2-butoxy-ethanol, which according to the N.J. Dept. of Health "may be absorbed through the skin; should be handled as a CARCINOGEN -- WITH EXTREME CAUTION; can irritate the skin and eyes with possible eye damage; can irritate the nose and throat; can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain. can cause headache, dizziness, lightheadedness, and passing out and may damage the liver and kidneys."[2]  --  "The dispersant is widely considered more dangerous to human health than the oil itself," Plummer said, "and several clean-up workers exposed to the dispersant have been reported as coming down with health problems."  --  "Corexit is is four times more toxic than oil (oil is toxic at 11 ppm (parts per million), Corexit 9500 at only 2.61ppm)," said Yobie Benjamin, who writes a blog on the website of the San Francisco Chronicle.[3]  --  Writing for Wired, Brandon Keim said that "Almost three weeks after federal orders to find less toxic chemicals to break up oil in the Gulf of Mexico, no progress has been made."[4] ...


1.

DISPERSANTS


Environmental Protection Agency
June 2010

http://www.epa.gov/bpspill/dispersants.html#chemicals

What are the chemical components of the dispersants COREXIT 9500 and COREXIT 9527?

The components of COREXIT 9500 and 9527 are:

CAS Registry Number              Chemical Name
57-55-6                                   1,2-Propanediol
111-76-2                                 Ethanol, 2-butoxy-*
577-11-7                                 Butanedioic acid, 2-sulfo-, 1,4-bis(2-ethylhexyl) ester, sodium salt (1:1)
1338-43-8                               Sorbitan, mono-(9Z)-9-octadecenoate
9005-65-6                               Sorbitan, mono-(9Z)-9-octadecenoate, poly(oxy-1,2-ethanediyl) derivs.
9005-70-3                               Sorbitan, tri-(9Z)-9-octadecenoate, poly(oxy-1,2-ethanediyl) derivs
29911-28-2                             2-Propanol, 1-(2-butoxy-1-methylethoxy)-
64742-47-8                             Distillates (petroleum), hydrotreated light

*Note: This chemical component (Ethanol, 2-butoxy-) is not included in the composition of Corexit 9500.

Learn more about CAS Registry Numbers from the American Chemical Society 

2.

News & politics

EPA FINALLY RELEASES COREXIT INGREDIENT LIST

By James Plummer

New Orleans Political Buzz Examiner
June 11, 2010


http://www.examiner.com/x-46544-New-Orleans-Political-Buzz-Examiner~y2010m6d11-EPA-finally-relases-COREXIT-ingredient-list

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has quietly released the list of ingredients of the chemical dispersant being pumped into the Gulf of Mexico by British Petroleum.  The release came following weeks of complaints from Congress and the public about the secrecy behind the more than one million gallons of dispersant which has been pumped into the Gulf to date.  BP is pumping 15,000 gallons a day of the patented chemical brews known as COREXIT 9500 AND COREXIT 9527 into the Gulf of Mexico.

The ingredient list appeared on the section of the EPA website dedicated to the oil "spill" (more like a volcano) at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico 50 miles offshore the coast of Louisiana.

The list includes 1,2-Propanediol; 2-butoxy-ethanol; 2-sulfo-Butanedioic acid, 1,4-bis(2-ethylhexyl) ester, sodium salt (1:1); Sorbitan, mono-(9Z)-9-octadecenoate; Sorbitan, mono-(9Z)-9-octadecenoate, poly(oxy-1,2-ethanediyl) derivs.; Sorbitan, tri-(9Z)-9-octadecenoate, poly(oxy-1,2-ethanediyl) derivs.; 2-Propanol, 1-(2-butoxy-1-methylethoxy)-;  and Distillates (petroleum), hydrotreated light.

Although some ingredients in the list had been publicly know, others, including the sodium salts were not.

Nalco, the company which manufactures COREXIT, responded by posting a list of "common day-to-day" uses of the chemicals in question.  That list includes skin cream, body shampoo, emulsifier in juice, Baby bath, mouth wash, face lotion, emulsifier in food, Body/Face lotion, tanning lotions, Wetting agent in cosmetic products, gelatin, beverages, Household cleaning products, Air fresheners.

The independent watchdog group OMBWatch cites the New Jersey Department of Health to point out possible dangers of one of the the ingredients.  The document indicates 2-butoxy-ethanol:  "may be absorbed through the skin; should be handled as a CARCINOGEN -- WITH EXTREME CAUTION; can irritate the skin and eyes with possible eye damage; can irritate the nose and throat; can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain. can cause headache, dizziness, lightheadedness, and passing out and may damage the liver and kidneys."

The dispersant is widely considered more dangerous to human health than the oil itself, and several clean-up workers exposed to the dispersant have been reported as coming down with health problems.

3.

[Blog]

Hacking capitalism, carbon, politics and food

BP OIL SPILL COREXIT DISPERANTS SUSPECTED IN WIDESPREAD CROP DAMAGE

By Yobie Benjamin

San Francisco Chronicle
June 10, 2010

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/blogs/ybenjamin/detail??blogid=150&entry_id=65552


Just when you thought the damages BP could cause was limited to beaches, marshes, oceans, people's livelihoods, birds and marine life, there's more.

BP's favorite dispersant Corexit 9500 is being sprayed at the oil gusher on the ocean floor.  Corexit is also being air sprayed across hundreds of miles of oil slicks all across the gulf.  There have been widespread reports of oil cleanup crews reporting various injuries including respiratory distress, dizziness, and headaches.

Corexit 9500 is a solvent originally developed by Exxon and now manufactured by the Nalco of Naperville, Illinois.  Corexit is is four times more toxic than oil (oil is toxic at 11 ppm (parts per million), Corexit 9500 at only 2.61ppm).

In a report written by Anita George-Ares and James R. Clark for Exxon Biomedical Sciences, Inc. titled "Acute Aquatic Toxicity of Three Corexit Products: An Overview," Corexit 9500 was found to be one of the most toxic dispersal agents ever developed.

According to the Clark and George-Ares report, Corexit mixed with the higher gulf coast water temperatures becomes even more toxic.  The U.K.'s Marine Management Organization has banned Corexit so if there was a spill in the U.K.'s North Sea, BP is banned from using Corexit.

The danger to humans can be expected.  The warnings on the Corexit packaging is straightforward. Breathing in Corexit is not recommended.

It seems like damage brought by the oil gusher has spread way beyond the ocean, coastal areas, and beaches.  Collateral damage now appears to include agricultural damage way inland Mississippi.

A mysterious "disease" has caused widespread damage to plants from weeds to farmed organic and conventionally grown crops.  There is very strong suspicion that ocean winds have blown Corexit aerosol plumes or droplets and that dispersants have caused the unexplained widespread damage or "disease."

There is no other explanation for the crop damage.  Everything points to something that has a widespread effect on plants and crops.  While no one precisely knows, all the signs point to BP's use of aerosolized Corexit brought inland by the ocean winds or rain.

Remember acid rain?  Now it seems we could have toxic dispersant rain.

4.

Wired science

NO PROGRESS ON BETTER CHEMICALS FOR OIL DISASTER CLEANUP

By Brandon Keim

Wired

June 10, 2010

http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2010/06/dispersant-confusion/


Almost three weeks after federal orders to find less toxic chemicals to break up oil in the Gulf of Mexico, no progress has been made.

The same dispersant chemicals are still being used.  BP barely tried to test an alternative, and the EPA’s own testing results on the toxicity and effectiveness of alternatives are slow in coming.  Experts say the tests will only provide a bare minimum of data, far less than they’d like for managing the unprecedented use of dispersants.  Nothing is clear, except that too little is known.

“At the end of the day, you’re asked to look at alternatives.  Then you find that you don’t know enough about alternatives to make that decision,” said Carys Mitchelmore, a University of Maryland biologist who co-authored a 2005 National Academy of Sciences dispersant report and has testified to Congress about their use during the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

Dispersants separate oil into smaller droplets that should biodegrade quickly.  They were applied to surface oil in the gulf soon after the disaster began. Their use was unfortunate but arguably necessary:  If oil broke down at sea, rather than near shore, damage to prized coastal ecosystems could be reduced.  Deep-sea animals would be sacrificed, but the shorelines would be saved.

Many questions surround dispersant use.  They’re toxins on their own, their effects on sea life are largely unquantified, and whether they’d work in the gulf as elsewhere is unknown.  Nor had dispersants been previously deployed in the volumes needed in the gulf.  Their injection directly into the wellhead, a mile beneath the sea, is also unprecedented.  Depth and pressure and temperature might alter the interaction of dispersant and oil in unanticipated ways.

None of these questions could be answered.  The specific choice of dispersant, however, seemed a more tractable matter, and generated controversy from the start.  BP chose two formulations of Corexit, one used during the Exxon Valdez oil spill and another developed in its aftermath.  According to EPA data on other dispersants approved for emergency use, 12 were better than Corexit at breaking down gulf oil, at least in laboratory tests.  BP argued that Corexit was far better studied than the alternatives, which is true -- but the role of former BP executive Rodney Chase as a director of Nalco, Corexit’s manufacturer, raised suspicions.

With public concern growing and the amount of Corexit used approaching one million gallons -- it now stands at 1.21 million gallons -- the EPA changed course May 20.  Agency officials said no damage had been seen, but the massive quantities and many uncertainties justified finding an alternative.  They gave BP 72 hours to find a less-toxic, equally effective alternative to Corexit.

Three days later, BP reported that no suitable alternatives existed.  EPA chief Lisa Jackson called their response “insufficient,” and accused the company of being “more focused on defending your initial decisions than on analyzing possible better options.”  She also announced that the EPA would assess dispersants on its own, and subsequently ordered BP to cease surface dispersant use and cut subsurface use dramatically.

“We said, we are going to do our own science, and also directed BP to conduct more in-depth science of their own.  That’s where we are at this point,” said EPA deputy press secretary Brendan Gilfillan.

With Coast Guard help, BP conducted tests of some alternative dispersants -- including Dispersit, which ultimately didn’t meet the EPA’s toxicity requirements -- early in May, but the results were neither released nor shared with the EPA.

Joannie Docter, president of Globemark Resources, the manufacturer of JD 2000 -- one of five dispersants that met the EPA’s toxicity standard -- said she was told by BP on May 18 that only Corexit would be used in the gulf.  At the time, BP hadn’t even tested JD 2000, which happened only after the EPA’s request.  BP’s rejection letter “says there’s not enough information,” said Sinclair.  “They did the testing after the fact.”

But though BP appears to have malingered, consideration of alternatives is tricky.  Analysis so far has been based on publicly available benchmark tests submitted to the EPA by companies seeking approval for their dispersants.  Effectiveness ratings in those tests represented laboratory reference points rather than real-world evaluation.  Toxicity measures are equally unreliable.

“The data presented in the tables is a one-time toxicity test.  These should be redone,” said Mitchelmore.  “The tests will be much more scientifically robust if they’re repeated, which is what the EPA is doing, then expanding on that and doing further chronic toxicity tests.”

Only a smattering of such information exists for dispersants other than Corexit.  “There have been way more toxicity studies done on Corexit than anything else, because it’s the dispersant of choice,” said Mitchelmore.  “I did all my studies on Corexit 9500.  There’s such limited funding out there to do this research.  Would I would have liked to screen six dispersants?  Yes, but there wasn’t money.”

Meanwhile, as BP pointed out in its response to the EPA, simple tests could miss subtle but important details.  For example, some of the ingredients in a seemingly acceptable dispersant called Sea Brat #4 may degrade into nonylphenol, an endocrine disrupter that could bioaccumulate in ever-higher concentrations up the food chain.

While BP knew the ingredients in Sea Brat #4, most dispersant formulations have been kept secret by their manufacturers.  Indeed, Nalco kept Corexit’s formulation under wraps and only revealed it to the EPA after extensive negotiations.  The ingredients were revealed by the EPA on June 8.  Perhaps not coincidentally, on May 28 the agency changed the Toxic Substances Control Act, giving itself power to suspend industry confidentiality claims on chemical compounds. Knowing the identity of each chemical used should help the EPA better characterize each dispersant.

According to Mitchelmore, acute toxicity tests take several days, and chronic toxicity tests between one and three weeks.  According to Gilfillan, “We don’t have a hard timeline” on when test results will be obtained.  “It looks like sometime in coming days or weeks.”

Even when the EPA’s tests are finished, however, circumstances will limit their value.  There isn’t time to study long-term effects on animals, do ecosystem analyses, or even conduct lab studies on the full range of species affected by dispersants and dispersed oil.  That data will be gathered in coming years, as results roll in from the giant laboratory that is now the Gulf of Mexico.

“The EPA is taking some important steps, but a lot of this stuff should have been done years ago,” said Natural Resources Defense Council senior scientist Gina Solomon.  “It’s a shame that we have to wait for a crisis before realizing the need to gather toxicity information.”

 

Last Updated on Friday, 11 June 2010 22:35  

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