Monday, May 24, 2010

Shocked! Shocked, I Tell You!

Last Wednesday the EPA ordered BP to stop using the dispersant Corexit within 72 hours, and switch to a safer and more effective alternative. As of today, BP is still using Corexit, with no apparent plans to change. I have been suspicious of ties between BP and Corexit's manufacturer for some time, but I'm well behind the curve on this one. The NYT's Greenwire had a report on this relationship on the 13th.
Critics say Nalco, which formed a joint venture company with Exxon Chemical in 1994, 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. "It's a chemical that the oil industry makes to sell to itself, basically," said Richard Charter, a senior policy adviser for Defenders of Wildlife.
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.
So it's not really a case of BP paying itself to use a more toxic, less effective dispersant, but a situation where BP affiliates are profiting from BP's choice of a more dangerous and less effective choice.
The company was founded in 1994 as a joint venture with ExxonMobil's chemical division. Nalco bought out Exxon's share in 2001, but retained its strong oil industry ties. One Nalco board member, Daniel Sanders, and a vice president, Steve Taylor, both served as senior executives at Exxon. Another Nalco board member, Rodney Chase, worked for BP for 38 years. In an interview, Nalco spokesman Charles Pajor says that former oil industry officials are "not by any means a majority" of the company’s corporate leadership. Nevertheless, cleanup effort has been good business for Nalco: the company has reported that it expects to sell $40 million worth of dispersants by the end of this week. Pajor says it's BP's decision to invest so heavily in one chemical. "It's a matter of them making a choice of what they've had experience using in the past and feel that it works for them," he says.
Meanwhile, the manufacturer of Dispersit,
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.
(The above excerpt is from the first article at Greenwire.) BP argues that Dispersit "may" contain a component that breaks down into a persistent hormone disruptor. However, that compound, if it does in fact break down into a byproduct of concern, is a microscopic proportion of hormone disruptors present in the oil... which is still leaking into the Gulf at rates many times what BP would have us believe.

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