Report: BP dispersants are making people sick


Things could be going from really bad to even worse around the Gulf of Mexico, for residents and for BP. An investigation by Al Jazeera reveals that the dispersants BP is using to treat the spill are making people sick.

There are already a number of reports about the toxicity of oil itself, but this investigation by Al Jazeera suggests the problem is bigger than that: already toxic dispersants are forming new compounds when combined with crude oil that become even more dangerous— not just for the environment, but for the humans who live and work there.

"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."

Residents are reporting brown vomit, brown urine, copious diarrhea, skin rashes, sore throats and even internal hemorrhaging. The report says that they are finding growing numbers of cases and it seems to be getting worse.

"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 detoxed." BP dispersants 'causing sickness' - Al Jazeera


  1. When BP was asked to respond to this they were quoted as saying, “What oil?” (insert big sh** eating grin here)

  2. Residents are reporting brown vomit, brown urine, copious diarrhea, skin rashes, sore throats and even internal hemorrhaging.

    So, I guess the conservative libertarians ’round here will tell us there’s some sort of market advantage to all this?


    1. Well if there is a silver lining at all I might be that these four states will have less than a dozen electoral votes to split between them within a generation or two.

      1. Your statement is both appalling and degrading! We are all Americans and everyone’s opinion needs to be heard. You sit behind your computer and smirk at the fact that people on the Gulf Coast are dying because you have some morbid bias and stereotypical idea of the “type” of people that live in those states?!

        You sir, are pathetic and ignorant!

  3. Kudos to Al Jazeera! But why does it take a foreign Arab news source to cover this important story?

    Shame on American corporate media douchebags!

  4. It’s sad and yet fitting that it takes a news organization from halfway round the world to tell us what’s happening here. If it weren’t for Al Jazeera and the BBC, all we’d know about was who was out on the latest episode of the Bachelor.

  5. Do you hear that noise? It’s the collective ‘noooooo really?’ from everyone living on the gulf coast.

    What kills me is that the EPA specifically asked BP to stop using this stuff & BP flatly said no, then continued spraying 1000’s of gallons of this poison into the water & we seemingly had no power to stop them.

  6. Right now, there is very, very, very little known definitively about what is going on in the Gulf. And what we do know for sure cannot (at this point) be tied to American/BP actions there.

    I’m all for calling out man-made environmental catastrophes when they happen. But I also happen to think it’s pretty unnecessary (and, in fact, somewhat discrediting of situations where the evidence is strong) to take largely undocumented phenomenon of unknown origin and call them the result of man-made environmental catastrophes.

    1. Saying there is little known about what’s going on in the gulf is like saying a rape victim knows little about what happened inside him or herself.

      I live in New Orleans, right by the river. I was preparing an investigative journalism piece for a prominent newspaper here before their silence was literally bought.

      River pilots, helicopter pilots, fishermen-turned-oil-cleaners, ships mechanics, and anyone involve in nautical business or life here can tell you exactly what is happening and what caused it, and who’s covering it up.

      When a BP representative confiscates photographic equipment from pilots hired to navigate near the spill, that’s a hint. When they give them gear that covers their face but the chemicals cover them waste high, that’s another. And when the National Guard is seen by thousands of people ferrying chemical dispersants and absorbants – like the ones mentioned in this article – that’s another yet.

  7. I wrote on this topic months ago. And I believe the conclusion I reached then is the same now
    The title on August 18 was “the FDA won’t test for Corexit Unless 300 Children Die from it Next Week

    In my article I point to work done by the Senior Scientist of the NRCD questioning the FDAs lack of testing protocols for Corexit in seafood. In an earlier article I point out how the EPA testing of Corexit in the air is inadequate as well as how OSHA won’t test the air out on the water by the clean up workers because their jurisdiction stops at three miles out.

    The media have covered some of this, but often it just explains why this is happening why humans are not as valuable as the money from oil revenues. What I found doing these stories is that if official sources don’t complain or demand more, the sick people are considered flukes and outside the bounds of normal responses “they are hyper sensative”
    So if the EPA testing (inshore) say there is no Corexit in the air you must be mistaken on why you got sick. Maybe you have sunstroke or you have food poisoning. (actual excuses used) and if the blood panels are not taken there is no evidence.
    Here are two stories I did on this topic.
    Is BP hiding Workers Blood Panels about testing for Corexit being skipped by hospitals or buried by BP in a a simple obstruction on justice.

    And a story about the FDA Not tested food for Corexit
    They want everyone to eat shrimp but won’t test it for Corexit. Why? To “help” the seafood industry and the oil industry.

  8. As a scientist, I have to say that this article by Al Jazeera is extremely shoddy. There may well be some truth to this, but it’s mixed in with so many inaccuracies or misquotes that I’d recommend suspending judgment until we hear a more authoritative report.

    Yes, polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) are bad for you. They’re one of the harder to degrade components of crude oil. Spraying dispersants on crude oil helps to disperse the oil, making it degrade faster.

    There’s valid arguments to be made regarding how the dispersants have changed where some of the oil wound up in the environment, and whether that was a good or bad thing. And we are still not sure what impact the dispersants themselves have had on various elements of the marine fauna and flora. But pretty much everybody agrees that (1) the crude oil itself was far more toxic than the dispersants, (2) the amount of dispersants used was far less than the amount of oil spilled, and (3) without the dispersants, we would have had far more oil washing up on beaches, including PAH-laden tar balls.

    If anything, this article sounds more like a whitewash job on behalf of the oil industry – trying to shift the blame from the toxic effects of the crude oil itself, onto the Corexit boogyman.

  9. So here’s the part I don’t get. Why is this method of oil removal permitted by the EPA? They must know that you get these products from mixing the Corexit with oil and water? That’s what the product is made to do. Apparently this is the go-to product for this kind of spill. BTW Corexit-corrects it? corrects what?

  10. There is a major error in the summary. PAHs (which, by the way, stands for polyCYCLIC aromatic hydrocarbons, not polyaromatic hydrocarbons) are chemicals found in the crude oil itself, not new chemicals formed by it reacting with the dispersant. The issue is that the dispersant makes these compounds water soluble, whereas normally they are hydrophobic. Once they are dissolved in water, they can spread much more readily through the environment, into the food chain, etc.

    Keep in mind that this is the whole point of dispersants. They are basically detergents that allow a concentrated blob of oil to mix with the surrounding water. This provides a massive dilutional effect, and (so the theory goes) renders the oil less harmful than if it stayed in highly concentrated form.

    “Residents are reporting brown vomit, brown urine, copious diarrhea, skin rashes, sore throats and even internal hemorrhaging.”
    This doesn’t fit with toxicity from PAHs. They are certainly carcinogenic, and in some cases teratogenic, but they don’t cause much in the way of acute symptoms. I know that this is how “toxins” work in Hollywood movies, but reality is much less dramatic.

    PAHs are found in many other things, for instance smoke (not just tobacco smoke), and barbequed (especially charred) meats. These don’t cause “internal hemorrhaging,” but they do cause cancer years down the road. I would not at all be surprised to see a bump in cancer incidence from the oil spill, but the timeframe we’re talking about is a decade plus after exposure.

    So, I’m not saying the dispersant was a good idea, or that it’s not toxic, but the article comes off as a bit sensationalistic and with very little scientific or medical grounding.

  11. This is not a product designed to disperse oil insomuch as one designed to keep oil from appearing on the surface and making it to the beaches. Saving the environment would not be the primary goal. Preventing an accurate estimate of the amount of oil spilled in the hopes of reducing fines would be the goal.

  12. @SporkWielder

    Hardly surprising, BP has been vindicated after investigators found that the American oil giant Halliburton knew weeks before the Deepwater Horizon explosion that the cement mixture it used to seal the BP-owned well was unstable.

  13. Well, Scientist, we aren’t exactly school crossing guards over at Protect The Ocean, and we’ve been warning of all of this (and more) since the 2nd day Corexit was used in the Gulf. Wired Magazine picked up on our story as well.

    Don’t be overly surprised that US mainstream media isn’t talking about it. I contacted Louie (The Cove) almost immediately, and he contacted the NY Times, who declined to even discuss the isssue with us.

    Dispersants aren’t about making it easier to clean up — not when this solvent is infused at 133 atmospheres of pressure (5000 feet) and near-freezing temperatures. Even at surface, it is only approved for use at the shoreline. Making it into smaller particles simply gives more surface area, and while some might say that it can break down better, that’s in certain circumstances, which don’t particularly exist sub-surface. Moreover, that greater surface area also equates to exponentially greater toxicity.

    Anon is correct that the end result is that the oil remains submerged. Originally designed to help cleanup of the shoreline, it has been used by BP to hide the oil, sweep it under the carpet, per se. We’re glad to see other sources coming forward with the toxic realities, but this isn’t new info. We informed people of these realities back in the very beginning.

    A local Channel 5 at the Gulf did independent tests of oil and tar free beaches and found Corexit present in 16-200 ppm. (The same substance is lethal to fish fry at just 2.6 ppm within 96 hours.) Well over 1 million gallons (more like 1.4 million or more) of Corexit were deployed, in violation of the Clean Water Act of 1972. That hazardous solvent has been in those waters for much longer than 96 hours. It’s still lethal at lower doses, over a longer period of time. This is part of why Corexit has been banned in the UK.

    Check in with for matters that matter to us, and this, our planet.

    1. Very crude calculations:

      1 cubic kilometer = 2.64172052 × 10^11 US gallons
      April 25, the spill was already covering 1500 km2, and no more than 50 km from the well (deep water still)

      1 million gallons of Corexit mixed in would be diluted 1:3*10^8

      That would make it closer to 3 ppb max, not 200 ppm. If it’s being detected, some process is concentrating it. If it was in the oil, then it wasn’t dispersing it much and is mixed with something more toxic: the oil itself.

  14. “brown vomit, brown urine, copious diarrhea, skin rashes, sore throats and even internal hemorrhaging”

    “They have sore throats, respiratory problems, neurological problems, lesions, sores, and ulcers. These people have been poisoned and they are dying.”

    Sounds like what’s been going on in the Niger Delta for 50 years.

  15. Naman’s the guy who managed to capture video of a jar of exploding water. He’s about as good a source as Vince Shlomi would be except his pitchman skills are subpar.

  16. Dispersants are going to cause problems but the bad science factoids and anecdotes in these stories are appalling.

    The crude oil is far more toxic than the dispersant. The dispersant will not form new compounds when mixed with crude. Corexit contains propylene glycol, not butylglycol (2-butoxyethanol). PAHs are part of the crude, not the dispersant.

    Dispersants may cause a problem by moving the crude to different places.

    You can’t “test for Corexit” either. Corexit is a mixture and as soon as it hits the ocean the components will go their separate ways. I’d be more concerned about the PAH content of any seafood anyway. Some light petrol distillates, antifreeze and fatty acids are far less worrisome.

    All the talk about peoples lungs dissolving are pretty stupid too. Some of them have double bonds? So does olive oil. Aromatic hydrocarbon is aromatic, the clue is in the name. And 4.75% lung capacity? Seriously? To three significant figures?

    What Corexit might be doing is causing some nasty rashes and contributing to ear/nose/vaginal infections (by harming mucous membranes). That could happen if someone swam in it, but not if someone sailed a boat through it. You’d get diahorrea and stomach pains if you swallowed it too. Inhalatory exposure would be trivial. Hyperbole about people dying is just silly.

    There is a big story in determining whether the dispersants have helped or hindered the cleanup efforts. There’s a big story in looking at what the human health effects have been. This is not that story. This is just a scare story that does little to enlighten anyone.

  17. … but the article comes off as a bit sensationalistic and with very little scientific or medical grounding.

    This is just a scare story that does little to enlighten anyone.

    How can you say that? Isn’t Al Jazeera is a bastion of care and concern for the American public?

    (Sarcasm, I has it.)

  18. Al Jazeera’s sensationalism aside, this thing with the dispersants still baffles me. We have an oil spill problem, and part of the solution is to more effectively distribute the oil into the ecosystem? Using chemicals related to antifreeze? Can that be right?

    My very limited training in this area boils down to two steps: 1) Contain. 2) Remove. I’ve never heard anyone suggest that the best solution to any kind of contamination is to just spread it really, really thin over a huge area, then call it a day.

  19. recently i saw a documentation from 2007 about the exxon valdez desaster in which a local woman tells the interviewer that “nearly everbody” of the local cleaners of that time were dead from cancer and symptons that looked like illness from poison. she was telling that they have cleaned the coast mostly with corexit…
    (i´m from germany, so please excuse my not-so-perfect english, but ´m sure you get the point.)
    i dont make this up, it was a documentation in german-tv because of the oilspill in the gulf (of course it was shown after midnite, we got here also the new coming of fascism of money.).

    1. Al Jazeera is the Daily Mail of the Middle East. Wouldn’t it be nice to have some corroboration?

      That’s funny, your “Daily Mail of the Middle East” does indeed have corroboration on this story. Of course, these lazyfisherman are probably just liberals looking for a handout, corex… er, correct?

      Maybe it’s YOU that is lazy… not the fishermen… and maybe it’s YOU that lacks credibility… not Al Jazeera ?

      I’m just askin’ questions.

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