July 27, 2010
The combination of millions of gallons of oil and dispersants has made large areas of the Gulf toxic and dangerous, marine toxicologist Ricki Ott saying if she lived there with children she'd leave - based on her firsthand experience after the 1989 Prince William Sound, Alaska Exxon Valdez disaster and subsequent research, documented in her books titled, "Sound Truth and Corporate Myth$: The Legacy of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill" and "Not One Drop - Betrayal and Courage in the Wake of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill."
Ongoing today, the legacy includes criminal negligence, bankruptcies, destroyed lives and livelihoods, domestic violence, severe anxiety, trauma, PTSD, drug and alcohol abuse, serious illnesses, suicides, massive loss of plant and wildlife, and vast ecological destruction from the 30 million or more gallons spilled, the State of Alaska's conservative estimate, not Exxon's 11 million figure, its lowball claim to hide the disaster's magnitude and minimize its liability.
The Gulf catastrophe is infinitely greater, estimates up to three or more Exxon Valdez incidents (using Exxon's figure) a week until capped. Yet some experts think another seabed hole (a few miles from the Macondo well) is emitting 100,000 or more barrels daily, greatly compounding the growing disaster, added to more by numerous small leaks, five or more alone in BP's Macondo well - the "well from hell," according to some.
Geologist Chris Landau is one, telling Petroleum World that "BP has drilled into a deep-core oil volcano that cannot be stopped, regardless of the horizontal drills the company claims will stop the oil plume in August."
Ocean Energy Institute Founder Matthew Simmons is another, telling Bloomberg we've killed the Gulf of Mexico - its $2.2 trillion economy by depleting oxygen, decimating aquatic life and poisoning the food chain. We've also created a public health crisis, problems showing up first in cleanup workers experiencing dizziness, fainting, nausea, nosebleeds, vomiting, coughing, headaches, stomach upset, and difficulty breathing, compounded by heat, fatigue, hydrocarbon smell, and combined toxicity of oil and dispersants.
Besides other toxins, crude oil contains benzene, in even small amounts associated with leukemia, Hodgkin's Lymphoma, other serious blood and immune system diseases, ventricular fibrillation, congestive gastritis, toxic gastritis, pyloric stenosis, myalgia, kidney damage, skin irritation and burns, swelling and edema, vascular congestion in the brain, and lethal central nervous system depression among others, depending on length and degree of exposure.
The EPA's safe level is 4 parts per billion (ppb), yet Gulf levels reach or top 3,000, smelled hundreds of miles away, meaning residents inhaling fumes are ingesting dangerous toxins, raising their risk for serious future health problems, some potentially lethal.
Long-term exposure to benzene, ethylbenzene, xylene, toluene and other solvents may cause infertility, low-birth weight babies, miscarriages, decreased cognitive function, psychomotor coordination problems, weakened immunity, and increased risk of depression, insomnia, certain cancers, and other diseases.
In their book Generations at Risk, Ted Schettler, Gina Solomon, Maria Valenti and Annette Huddle reviewed the physical properties of solvents, enabling humans to ingest them saying:
"They evaporate in air at room temperature and are therefore easily inhaled; they penetrate the skin easily; and they cross the placenta, sometimes accumulating at higher doses in the fetus. In addition, many solvents (like benzene) enter breast fat and are found in breast milk, sometimes at higher concentrations than in maternal blood."
"Solvents contaminating drinking water enter the body through skin absorption and inhalation in the shower, as well as through drinking water. In fact, the total exposure from taking a ten minute shower in contaminated water is greater than....drinking two quarts of the same water. Solvents are generally short-lived in the human body, lingering for no more than several days." When longer-term, however, much greater harm results.
Exposure can cause "a range of ill effects, including damage to the skin, liver, central nervous system, lungs, and kidneys. Certain solvents can inhibit blood cell production." Many are carcinogenic. Glycol ethers can cause birth defects, testicular damage, infertility, and failed pregnancies. Exposed men experience low sperm counts, women reproductive problems, everyone potential serious future health problems.
After the 2002 Galicia, Spain Prestige oil spill and 2007 South Korean Hebei Spirit one, fishermen and cleanup workers suffered from respiratory and central nervous system problems, even genetic damage. After the Exxon Valdez disaster, BP's then medical director, Dr. Robert Rigg warned:
"It is a known fact that neurological changes (brain damage), skin disorders, (including cancer), liver and kidney damage, cancer of the other organs, and medical complications - secondary to exposure to working unprotected (or inadequately protected) - can and will occur (in) workers exposed to crude oil and other petrochemical by-products." Short-term symptoms and complaints may be early warnings of serious long-term harm.
Public health specialists Ellen-Marie Whelan and Lesley Russell from the Center for American Progress said:
"We know that Exxon Valdez cleanup workers faced average oil mist exposure that was twelve times higher than government-approved limits, and those who washed the beaches with hot water experienced a maximum exposure 400 times higher than these limits. Many of those workers suffered subsequent health problems, and in 1989, 1,811 workers filed compensation claims, primarily for respiratory system damage, according to the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health." Today, we face "what some are calling the worst-ever ecological disaster without an appropriate public health response in place."
Whelan and Russell also cited the dangers of "controlled burns," saying "When we aerosolize those oil droplets, they can be breathed in, which can be very damaging to the lungs, and can" irritate the eyes, throat, and cause nausea and vomiting. Early May EPA air tests in the greater Venice, LA area showed toxin levels far exceeding safe standards onshore - 100 - 1,000-fold for volatile organic carbons (VOC), including hydrogen sulfide, and other emitted chemicals.
According to Ott and other experts, if air, land and water toxicity exceeds safe levels, Washington is obligated to evacuate residents, as it would ahead of a dangerous hurricane. "The current situation is a disaster in the making," so far covered up and unaddressed.
Chemical Dispersants - Compounding the Disaster
According to the EPA:
"Dispersants have not been used extensively in the United States because of possible long term environment effects, difficulties with timely and effective application, disagreement among scientists and research date about their environmental effects, effectiveness, and toxicity concerns."
Extensive use of them (two million or more gallons so far) is a giant uncontrolled human/wildlife/ecological experiment, especially combined with oil.
Oil is toxic at 11 parts per million (ppm) while Corexit 9500 at only 2.61 ppm, and Corexit 9527 even less, the EPA calling it an acute health hazard. Its main ingredient, 2-butoxyethanol, is a dangerous neurotoxin pesticide known to cause cancer, reproductive problems, birth defects, genetic mutations, blood disorders, and damage to kidneys, liver and central nervous system.
It's not known if Corexit 9500 contains 2-butoxyethanol. Science Corps.org lists it among its toxic ingredients. For competitive reasons, Nalco, its producer, keeps its formula secret, but what's disclosed is extremely toxic, including dioctyl sodium sulfosuccinate (DSS), causing severe eye and skin irritation as well as diarrhea, intestinal bloating, cramps and nausea when ingested, including by inhaling fumes. It's also cytotoxic, especially to liver cells.
Corexit also contain arsenic, cadmium, chromium, mercury, cyanide, and other heavy metals. Dispersing oil with it increases toxicity 11-fold, suggesting a calamitous looming public health disaster, potentially affecting hundreds of thousands of area residents and in other states if toxins spread by rains. More on that below.
Containing solvents, surfactants (surface active agents), and other toxins, dispersants make oil more water soluble by breaking its surface tension. Once done, it sinks, stays suspended in deep water, and collects on the seabed where shellfish and other organisms feed, in turn becoming food for other sea life, then humans.
What fish and animals eat, people do, including all toxins they ingest. It's why the National Academy of Sciences warns about "insufficient understanding of the fate (and effects) of dispersed oil in aquatic ecosystems," perhaps destroying them entirely, making Gulf seafood unsafe to eat and dozens of area communities hazardous to live in.
Science Corps.org lists the following potential health damage to humans and wildlife from dispersants:
"respiratory system, liver, kidneys, circulatory system, immune system, musculoskeletal system, skin and integumentary system, nervous system, including the brain, reproductive/urogenital system, endocrine system, gastrointestinal system, sensory systems, hematopoietic system (blood forming), (and) disruption of normal metabolism."
Damaging these systems can cause "a wide range of diseases and conditions....some immediately evident, others....appear(ing) months or years later."
Especially vulnerable are people with serious pre-existing conditions; infants, children, and fetuses; pregnant women, especially carrying multiple fetuses; and people working or living in environments causing health stresses or exposure to other toxins.
"Crude oil's toxic ingredients (alone) can damage every system in the body." Combined with dispersants, the potential risk increases exponentially.
Natural Gas Containing Methane - A Potentially Far Greater Threat
Natural gas contains from 75 - 90% methane. It's also a constituent of oil, about 40% of Macondo well emissions, compared to around 5% in other deposits, creating a potentially far greater disaster, including:
-- oxygen-depleted "dead zones" throughout the Gulf in which animal and plant life can't survive; and
-- a possible "massive bubble trapped for thousands of years under the Gulf of Mexico sea floor," warns DK Matai, exploding and unleashing a high-speed "tsunami" endangering the entire Gulf coastline, especially Florida,
followed by a "second tsunami via vaporization," producing a massive hot cavity able to vaporize water into steam, causing another seabed rupture.
Terrance Aym calls it a possible, though low probability, "world-killing event....an irreversible, cascading geological Apocalypse that will culminate with the first mass extinction of life on Earth in many millions of years."
Biochemical engineer Gregory Ryskin suggests "oceans periodically produce massive eruptions of explosive methane gas," based on scientific evidence, the last mass extinction occurring 55 million years ago. Other geologist agree that "The consequences of a methane-driven oceanic eruption for marine and terrestrial life are likely to be catastrophic."
Warning signs include large seabed fissures, a rise in seafloor elevation, and "the massive venting of methane and other gases....All....occurring in the Gulf," the Macondo well its epicenter in which methane is pressurized at 100,000 pounds psi. Other fissures have also been spotted as distant as 30 miles from ground zero.
"Most disturbing of all: Methane levels in the water are now calculated as being almost one million times higher than normal." If the bubble erupts, "every ship, drilling rig and structure (in its vicinity) will immediately sink," killing everyone on them.
Then, "the ocean bottom will collapse....displacing up to a trillion cubic feet of water (creating) a towering supersonic tsunami annihilating everything" in its path, depositing a lethal chemical cocktail, a potential doomsday scenario that can happen suddenly, perhaps soon.
On July 24, a Juliyanna written Rense.com article headlined, "Bonnie Drops Toxic BP Rain - More Plants Dying," accessed through the following link:
It discussed light, short Key Largo, FL rain from tropical storm Bonnie as it passed over south Florida, destroying a Jasmine plant two hours after it fell.
"The plant was a healthy young plant" grown to five feet, eight inches. After rain hit its leaves, they "crumpled and fell off on the ground," the tree left with "a huge burned brown spot and then there is this white stuff on the other leaves as well." The tree's flowers were also affected, left "sagging and falling off."
Her yard's other trees weren't harmed, "so it appears the more exotic tender plants get damaged much easier," apparently from toxic rain likely affecting other coastal areas.
No wonder experts like Ricki Ott say Gulf hazards warrant evacuation, the alternative being long-term exposure to greater health and well-being risks than anyone should take.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.