BP dispersants 'causing sickness'
Investigation by Al Jazeera online correspondent finds toxic illnesses linked to BP oil dispersants along Gulf coast.
Dahr Jamail Last Modified: 29 Oct 2010 16:01 GMT
Denise Rednour of Long Beach, Mississippi, has been sick with chemical poisoning since July [Erika Blumenfeld]
Two-year-old Gavin Tillman of Pass Christian, Mississippi, has been diagnosed with severe upper respiratory, sinus, and viral infections. His
temperature has reached more than 39 degrees since September 15, yet his sicknesses continue to worsen.
His parents, some doctors, and environmental consultants believe the child's ailments are linked to exposure to chemicals spilt by BP during its Gulf
of Mexico oil disaster.
Gavin's father, mother, and cousin, Shayleigh, are also facing serious health problems. Their symptoms are being experienced by many others living
along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico.
Widely banned toxic dispersants
Injected with at least 4.9 million barrels of oil during the BP oil disaster of last summer, the Gulf has suffered the largest accidental marine oil
spill in history. Compounding the problem, BP has admitted to using at least 1.9 million gallons of widely banned toxic dispersants (one that has been
banned in the UK), which according to chemist Bob Naman, create an even more toxic substance when mixed with crude oil. And dispersed, weathered oil
continues to flow ashore daily.
Naman, who works at the Analytical Chemical Testing Lab in Mobile, Alabama, has been carrying out studies to search for the chemical markers of the
dispersants BP used to both sink and break up its oil.
According to Naman, poly-aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) from this toxic mix are making people sick. PAHs contain compounds that have been identified as
carcinogenic, mutagenic, and teratogenic.
Fisherman across the four states most heavily affected by the oil disaster - Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida - have reported seeing BP
spray dispersants from aircraft and boats offshore.
"The dispersants are being added to the water and are causing chemical compounds to become water soluble, which is then given off into the air, so it
is coming down as rain, in addition to being in the water and beaches of these areas of the Gulf," Naman added.
"I’m scared of what I'm finding. These cyclic compounds intermingle with the Corexit [dispersants] and generate other cyclic compounds that
aren’t good. Many have double bonds, and many are on the EPA's danger list. This is an unprecedented environmental catastrophe."
Commercial fisherman Donny Matsler also lives in Alabama.
"I was with my friend Albert, and we were both slammed with exposure," Matsler explained of his experience on August 5, referring to toxic chemicals
he inhaled that he believes are associated with BP's dispersants. "We both saw the clumps of white bubbles on the surface that we know come from the
"I started to vomit brown, and my pee was brown also," Matsler, a Vietnam veteran who lives in Dauphin Island, said. "I kept that up all day. Then
I had a night of sweating and non-stop diarrhea unlike anything I’ve ever experienced."
He was also suffering from skin rashes, nausea, and a sore throat.
At roughly the same time Matsler was exposed, local television station WKRG News 5 took a water sample from his area to test for dispersants. The
sample literally exploded when it was mixed with an organic solvent separating the oil from the water.
Naman, the chemist who analyzed the sample, said: "We think that it most likely happened due to the presence of either methanol or methane gas or the
presence of the dispersant Corexit."
"I'm still feeling terrible," Matsler told Al Jazeera recently. "I'm about to go to the doctor again right now. I'm short of breathe, the
diarrhea has been real bad, I still have discoloration in my urine, and the day before yesterday, I was coughing up white foam with brown spots in
As for Matsler's physical reaction to his exposure, Hugh Kaufman, an EPA whistleblower and analyst, has reported this of the effects of the toxic
"We have dolphins that are hemorrhaging. People who work near it are hemorrhaging internally. And that’s what dispersants are supposed to
By the middle of last summer, the Alabama Department of Public Health said that 56 people in Mobile and Baldwin counties had sought treatment for what
they believed were oil disaster-related illnesses.
A dispersed oil tar ball in Orange Beach, Alabama [Erika Blumenfeld]
"The dispersants used in BP's draconian experiment contain solvents such as petroleum distillates and 2-butoxyethanol," Dr. Riki Ott, a
toxicologist, marine biologist, and Exxon Valdez survivor, told Al Jazeera.
"Solvents dissolve oil, grease, and rubber," she continued, "Spill responders have told me that the hard rubber impellors in their engines and the
soft rubber bushings on their outboard motor pumps are falling apart and need frequent replacement."
"Given this evidence, it should be no surprise that solvents are also notoriously toxic to people, something the medical community has long known,"
Dr. Ott added.
"In 'Generations at Risk', medical doctor Ted Schettler and others warn that solvents can rapidly enter the human body. They evaporate in air and
are easily inhaled, they penetrate skin easily, and they cross the placenta into fetuses. For example, 2- butoxyethanol (in Corexit) is a human health
hazard substance; it is a fetal toxin and it breaks down blood cells, causing blood and kidney disorders."
Pathways of exposure to the dispersants are inhalation, ingestion, skin, and eye contact. Health impacts include headaches, vomiting, diarrhea,
abdominal pains, chest pains, respiratory system damage, skin sensitization, hypertension, central nervous system depression, neurotoxic effects,
genetic mutations, cardiac arrhythmia, and cardiovascular damage.
Even the federal government has taken precautions for its employees. US military officials decided to reroute training flights in the Gulf region in
order to avoid oil and dispersant tainted-areas.
Growing number of cases
And Al Jazeera is finding a growing number of illnesses across the Gulf Coast.
Denise Rednour of Long Beach, Mississippi, has been taking walks on Long Beach nearly every day since the disaster began on April 20, and she is
dealing with constant health issues.
"I've had health problems since the middle of July," she said. "At the end of August, I came home from walking on the beach and for four days had
bloody, mucus-filled diarrhea, dry heaves, and blood running out of my ear."
Karen Hopkins, in Grand Isle, Louisiana, has been sick since the middle of May. "I started feeling exhausted, disoriented, dizzy, nauseous, and my
chest was burning and I can’t breath well at times," she said.
Dean Blanchard, who runs a seafood distribution business in Grand Isle, is Hopkins' boss. He too is experiencing similar symptoms.
"They [BP] are using us like lab rats," he explained, "I'm thinking of moving to Costa Rica. When I leave here I feel better. When I come back I
feel bad again. Feeling tired, coughing, sore throat, burning eyes, headaches, just like everyone around here feels."
Lorrie Williams of Ocean Springs says her son's asthma has "gotten exponentially worse since BP released all their oil and dispersants into the
"A plane flew over our house recently and sprayed what I believe are dispersants. A fine mist covered everything, and it smelled like pool chemicals.
Noah is waking up unable to breath, and my husband has head and chest congestion and burning eyes," Williams said.
Like others, when Lorrie's family left the area for a vacation, they immediately felt better. But upon coming home, their symptoms returned.
Wilma Subra, a chemist in New Iberia, Louisiana, recently tested the blood of eight BP cleanup workers and residents in Alabama and Florida.
"Ethylbenzene, m,p-Xylene and Hexane are volatile organic chemicals that are present in the BP Crude Oil," Subra said,
"The blood of all three females and five males had chemicals that are found in the BP Crude Oil. The acute impacts of these chemicals include nose
and throat irritation, coughing, wheezing, lung irritation, dizziness, light-headedness, nausea and vomiting."
Indications of exposure
Subra explained that there has been long enough exposure so as to create chronic impacts, that include "liver damage, kidney damage, and damage to
the nervous system. So the presence of these chemicals in the blood indicates exposure."
Testing by Subra has also revealed PAHs present "in coastal soil sediment, wetlands, and in crab, oyster and mussel tissues."
Trisha Springstead, is a registered nurse of 36 years who lives and works in Brooksville, Florida.
"What I'm seeing are toxified people who have been chemically poisoned," she said, "They have sore throats, respiratory problems, neurological
problems, lesions, sores, and ulcers. These people have been poisoned and they are dying. Drugs aren’t going to help these people. They need to be
Chemist Bob Naman described the brownish, rubbery tar balls that are a product of BP's dispersed oil that continue to wash up on beaches across the
"Those are the ones kids are picking up and playing with and breathing the fumes that come off them when you crush them in your hand. These will
affect anyone who comes into contact with it. You could have an open wound and this goes straight in. Women have a lot more open mucus membranes and
they are getting sicker than men. They are bleeding from their vagina and anus. Small kids are bleeding from their ears. This stuff is busting red
Dr Ott said: "People are already dying from this… I’m dealing with three autopsies' right now. I don’t think we’ll have to wait years to see
the effects like we did in Alaska, people are dropping dead now. I know two people who are down to 4.75 per cent of their lung capacity, their heart
has enlarged to make up for that, and their esophagus is disintegrating, and one of them is a 16-year-old boy who went swimming in the Gulf."