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According to EPA data, Corexit ranks far above dispersants made by competitors in toxicity and far below them in effectiveness in handling southern Louisiana crude.
Of 18 dispersants whose use EPA has approved, 12 were found to be more effective on southern Louisiana crude than Corexit, EPA data show. Two of the 12 were found to be 100 percent effective on Gulf of Mexico crude, while the two Corexit products rated 56 percent and 63 percent effective, respectively. The toxicity of the 12 was shown to be either comparable to the Corexit line or, in some cases, 10 or 20 times less, according to EPA.
… Critics say Nalco, a joint partnership with Exxon Chemical that was spun off in the 1990s, boasts oil-industry insiders on its board of directors and among its executives, including an 11-year board member at BP and a top Exxon executive who spent 43 years with the oil giant.
One explanation for BP's reliance on Nalco's Corexit, which its competitors say dominates the niche market for dispersants because of its industry ties, was its availability in large quantities at the time of the Gulf spill.
"Obviously, logistics and stockpiles and the ability for the responsible party to pull the materials together," Jackson said. "I'm sure that has a lot to do with the ones that they choose."
The older of the two Corexit products that BP has used in the Gulf spill, Corexit 9527, was also sprayed in 1989 on the 11-million-gallon slick created by the Exxon Valdez grounding in Alaska's Prince William Sound.
Cleanup workers suffered health problems afterward, including blood in their urine and assorted kidney and liver disorders. Some health problems were blamed on the chemical 2-butoxyethanol, an ingredient discontinued in the latest version of Corexit, Corexit 9500, whose production Nalco officials say has been ramped up in response to the Gulf of Mexico disaster.
Among Corexit's competitors, a product called Dispersit far outpaced Corexit 9500, EPA test results show, rating nearly twice as effective and between half and a third as toxic, based on two tests performed on fish and shrimp.
Bruce Gebhardt, president of the company that manufactures Dispersit, U.S. Polychemical Corp., said BP asked for samples of his company's product two weeks ago. Later, he said, BP officials told him that EPA had wanted to ensure they had "crossed all their T's and dotted all their I's" before moving forward.
Gebhardt says he could make 60,000 gallons a day of Dispersit to meet the needs of spill-containment efforts. Dispersit was formulated to outperform Corexit and got EPA approval 10 years ago, he said, but the dispersant has failed to grab market share from its larger rival.
"When we came out with a safer product, we thought people would jump on board," he said. "That's not the case. We were never able to move anyone of any size off the Corexit product."
He added, "We're just up against a giant."