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One Year Later, Gulf Still Suffering from Environmental, Health Consequences of Unprecedented Dispersant Use
Food & Water Watch Critical of President’s Proposed Budget for NOAA’s Gulf of Mexico Spill Recovery Efforts
WASHINGTON - April 18 - Approximately one year after the biggest oil spill in U.S. history, national consumer advocacy group Food & Water Watch released a report detailing the public health and environmental fallout from the unprecedented use of chemical dispersants in the Gulf of Mexico, and called attention to skewed budget priorities for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in the President’s 2012 budget proposal.
According to the report, the administration’s 2012 budget for NOAA – the agency tasked with conserving and managing living marine resources – would include $2.9 million on oil spill recovery efforts in the Gulf of Mexico, while allocating almost $60 million to promote policies that would further harm many fishermen and the Gulf environment.
“NOAA seeks to give tens of millions to push controversial fisheries management plans and promote ecologically damaging industrialization of our seafood. Gulf recovery efforts, on the other hand, don’t seem to be the agency’s priority,” said Wenonah Hauter, Executive Director of Food & Water Watch. “These policies NOAA is promoting – catch and trade and factory fish farming – would further devastate the Gulf economy and the marine environment,” Hauter said.
BP dumped 1.84 million gallons of the dispersants Corexit 9500A and 9527 into the Gulf over the several months following the Deepwater Horizon spill. The dispersants did not eliminate oil from the environment; they broke it down into smaller, less visible particles and sank it below the surface of the ocean where much of the toxic concoction remains.
According to the report, the toxicity of the dispersants increases when they are mixed with oil. An underwater cloud of dispersed, microscopic oil droplets contaminates a volume of water 100-1,000 times greater than if the oil were confined to the surface.
As of April 7, 2011, 153 dead dolphins have washed ashore along the Gulf Coast since the beginning of the year. A recent study suggests that the true death toll could be fifty times the number of carcasses recovered and reveals that 7,650 dolphins may have died in the gulf since the beginning of the year.
“We’re still extremely worried about the underwater plumes of oil and dispersant since they’re even more toxic than dispersant sprayed on the top of the water,” Hauter said. “The dispersed oil in plumes is more easily absorbed and consumed by marine animals. We should definitely consider this when researching the dolphin and sea turtle deaths. A year later, the body count keeps rising. No one is forgetting that this happened and the government needs to be held accountable for recovery efforts.”
Massive underwater oil plumes have been discovered across the Gulf. The University of Georgia found a ten-mile long, three-mile wide plume that was 300 feet thick at points.
Above the surface, the report lists studies and incidents of Corexit’s negative health impact on humans, revealing that:
• Immediately after the spill, nine cleanup workers became violently ill. Four additional men were hospitalized after their boat was accidentally doused with dispersant. In early August, 334 people in Louisiana claimed spill-related health problems, including headaches and dizziness.
• Louisiana Environmental Action Network (LEAN) tested blood from five people that came in contact with oil and dispersants and exhibited physical symptoms. Chemicals that corresponded to those found in oil, dispersant or both were present in all those tested.
• Tulane University’s Disaster Resilience Leadership Academy and the Louisiana Bucket Brigade surveyed 954 Louisiana residents to determine the spill’s impact. Approximately half of all respondents reported having an unusual increase in coughing, headaches and skin and eye irritation.
• The National Institute of Health (NIH) is conducting the largest study on the dispersants’ health impacts – interviewing 55,000 Gulf residents. BP originally committed $10 million to the $17.8 million study but recently cut its contribution to $6 million, leaving the government to fund the majority.
Corexit 9527 was one of the several dispersants used during the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska. Nearly 7,000 workers reported feeling ill with respiratory distress during this time. The average age of death for those that worked with Corexit during the Valdez spill is 50 years old.
Despite expert recommendations that BP used dispersants associated with less environmental and public health risk, the company decided to purchase the more toxic Corexit from Nalco Holding Company, whose board of directors includes a former BP executive and board member. Since then, Nalco has experienced tremendous revenue gains, selling over $70 million in dispersants to BP and the government.
The Obama Administration recently proposed allocating $54 million in its 2012 budget to catch shares – a policy that has put thousands of fishermen out of business, and over $4 million to ocean factory fish farming – a widely criticized, environmentally unsustainable method of mass-producing fish.