C: Petty Officer 3rd Class Stephen Lehmann, Coast Guard
C: Petty Officer 3rd Class Stephen Lehmann, Coast Guard

Sometimes, there is absolutely nothing worse than being proven right. It is the one thing you dreaded.

Ever since the horrendous Deepwater Horizon spill in 2010, I and many others warned against using the toxic chemical called Corexit arguing that it would do more damage than good.

The potential evidence of harm, or lack of evidence of its safety, was clear for everyone from BP to the US Government to see to if they had bothered to look.

Nearly one million gallons of the dispersant was dropped by air and a further 770,000 gallons injected into the well head to try and disperse in excess of 200 million gallons of oil that was spilt by BP in the Gulf of Mexico.

BP was warned against its used by leading experts such as Dr. Riki Ott and others, who were veterans of the Exxon Valdez spill in 1989. At the time, Dr. Ott said the use of dispersants was “like treating cancer with something you don’t know is going to work or not, or you don’t know whether the cure is worse than the harm. You don’t know anything.” On this blog, back in 2010, I pointed out that, despite Corexit’s widespread use “No toxicity studies have been conducted on this product”.

In 2013, I wrote a further blog on Corexit after the American Journal of Medicine published a scientific study which revealed that workers exposed to crude oil and dispersants used during the BP cleanup displayed significantly altered blood profiles, liver enzymes, and bodily illnesses compared to an unexposed control group.

Two years later, the Washington Post reported that: “a new study by researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham suggests that an oil dispersant widely used during the cleanup of the BP disaster is capable of causing damage to humans and marine animals alike.”

The paper reported how the “Thousands of men and women who had helped clean up the spill gradually became ill. Lungs began to burn. Skin began to blister.”

The Post outlined how: “Nearly two million gallons of Corexit were sprayed atop the oil spill to help break down the petroleum … in their study, the UAB scientists found that the dispersant can seriously damage epithelial cells, such as those in the lungs of humans or the gills of marine animals.”

The scientific paper’s senior author, Professor Veena Antony, said: “The evidence that Corexit causes structural and functional abnormalities in airway tissue includes dispersant-induced cell detachment, edema, contraction in cell diameter and increased permeability.”

And now we have further evidence of totally avoidable harm with two more studies published in the last six months.

Last September, the National Institutes of Health published a study which was the first ever to evaluate associations between potential exposure to dispersants such as Corexit to specific health problems both during the spill response and for one to three years afterwards. They found that exposure to dispersants was “significantly associated” with health outcomes such as burning in the nose, throat, or lungs, burning eyes and tightening in the chest.

And now, NOLA reported yesterday the results of a new study on Coast Guard responders by the Uniformed Services University, a Maryland health sciences and medical school run by the federal government.

It outlines that: “The nearly 2,000 Coast Guard members who reported exposure to oil dispersants suffered a range of illnesses — lung irritation, skin rash, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea — at higher rates than members who were not exposed to the chemicals or were exposed to oil alone.”

Jennifer Rusiecki, a USU researcher involved in the study told NOLA: “With increased levels of exposure there was a higher prevalence of reporting cough and shortness of breath, and more reporting of wheeze than non-exposed people.”

Rusiecki said “that people exposed to the dispersants were four times more likely to report shortness of breath and three times more likely to report skin rashes than their non-exposed counterparts. They “were also two times more likely to say they suffered bouts of coughing and digestive problems, including diarrhea and vomiting”.

Rusiecki added “of all the studies about the toxic effects of dispersants, there really haven’t been any on humans. We’re trying to address that.”

Any reasonable person would think that studies to evaluate the safety of a product should be established before widespread use. Clean up workers should not be used as guinea pigs who get sick on BP’s behalf.