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It's time we talk about dispersants. We need to rip into this. Pull it apart. Look at it. Examine it. Turn it over. Upside down. Inside out.

We know this oil clean-up is a total clusterfuck. We know that. We see it. Dead guys signing off on clean-up plans. Walruses in the Gulf and magic fairies.

We know this. We know BP can't lay boom correctly. It had no plan. None. Nada. Nothing. We KNOW this. WE KNOW THIS ABOUT BP. We know it has lied, covered up, bullshitted, spun and screwed us.

So why, in the name of everything on this planet


It took me several tries to completely digest what Rolling Stone author Tim Dickinson was trying to tell me yesterday. I literally got sick to my stomach a few times and had to take a break from reading it.

The first time I got sick was when I read these few sentences:

By the time Obama spoke, it was increasingly evident that this was not merely an ecological disaster. It was the most devastating assault on American soil since 9/11.
Like the attacks by Al Qaeda, the disaster in the Gulf was preceded by ample warnings – yet the administration had ignored them.

Sometimes it feels worse when someone agrees with you, and I felt worse yesterday reading this. For over 50 days now, I feel like I've been living that feeling I had on 9/11 over and over again. I remember that terror I felt that morning while feeding my son breakfast in his highchair.

As plane after plane seemed to drop from the sky, I remembered the terror of wondering what would happen next. It was that fear of the unknown that I remember so well.

I don't mean to reduce the horror of that day. It is not my intention. What I am talking about here is the terror that attack put into me as I tried to deal with the possibility of just how bad it could be. I thought about how I would protect my two-year-old if planes flew over my house and began crashing into my neighborhood. I had no idea how I would do that.

I am far away from the Gulf, just like I was far away from the Twin Towers on that day. But the same terror is there for me now as I wonder just how bad this is going to get. Only after a while, that acute terror went away after 9/11. With the situation in the Gulf, it has continued for 52 days and counting.

Call me hysterical. No problem. I am. I am terrified that we are allowing BP - which has shown again and again and again - that it is incompetent at the very best and corrupt at its worst - to use dispersants in the Gulf. Dispersants made of secret chemicals that have never been used in this amount, this way. before.

Where are we on the number of gallons of Corexit or God-knows-what other dispersants that BP has sprayed on us? Dumped on us? I can't keep track. Pretty soon they will almost equal the number of gallons of oil BP has dumped on us.

How is it okay for a foreign country to use planes and other methods to spread unknown chemicals over our water, and into our air? Why, after the first crime on the eve of Earth Day 2010, is this crime continuing against us? Instead BP continues to cover us with chemicals and no one stops it - no one.

If these were "terrorists" in crop dusters spraying our Gulf of Mexico using the very same bullshit chemicals, I wonder if that would be okay?

We don't even know what these chemicals are. It is such bullshit.

It is long past the time to demand that BP stop using these dispersants. My gut has that very same 'terror' feeling as I consider just how bad this can get, and not just from the oil.  


After strugging through the Rolling Stone piece, towards the end I read this:

That may help explain why the administration has gone to unusual lengths to contain the spill's political fallout. On May 14th, two days after the first video of the gusher was released, the government allowed BP to apply a toxic dispersant that is banned in England at the source of the leak – an unprecedented practice in the deep ocean. "The effort should be in recovering the oil, not making it more difficult to recover by dispersing it," says Sylvia Earle, a famed oceanographer and former NOAA chief scientist who helped the agency confront the world's worst-ever oil spill in the Persian Gulf after the first Iraq War. The chemical assault appeared geared, she says, "to improving the appearance of the problem rather than solving the problem."

Ms. Earle is not the only expert saying this. I know you've heard them. I know you have likely suspected the same. You don't have to be a scientist to know that if you smash a drinking glass on your kitchen floor, it is more difficult to pick it up. And no matter how hard you try, you are always sure you missed some of the glass that went under the cupboard or refrigerator, but you leave it there anyway. Out of sight, out of mind.

Kinda like the 'old days' when people in my community used to throw their old washing machines into the river.

During testimony before the house Energy Commerce Committee, “Beneath the Surface of the BP Spill: What’s Happening Now, What’s Needed Next” another expert, Samantha B. Joye, Ph.D., Professor of Marine Sciences, University of Georgia talked about dispersants with a panel of other experts. Joye emphasized the urgency to determine just what the hell is going on in the Gulf and surrounding areas:

Current deepwater monitoring efforts have focused to a large extent on the area within about 20-30 miles of the leaking wellhead. Basin-wide measurements are needed as soon as possible because the dispersed oil, and the dispersants that generated it, may travel great distances from the site of the spill. It is therefore imperative to obtain background information from sites that may be potentially impacted as soon as possible.

Multiple types of data are needed and these data should be collected throughout the water column at as many places as possible. Detailed hydrographic and physical oceanographic characterization of the water column is essential. Such studies in surface waters (upper 200m), mid-waters (200-800m) and deep waters (800m to the bottom) should address at least the following specific objectives:

  1. Quantifying the concentration of oil and the composition of the crude oil (PAH,BTEX, etc.) and fingerprinting the oil to trace it to its origin;
  1. Quantifying rates of primary production and evaluating the potential impacts of dispersants on phytoplankton populations and activity (surface waters only);
  1. Quantifying concentrations of dissolved oxygen, dissolved inorganic carbon, methane, dispersants, and nutrients and key trace elements (like iron);
  1. Quantifying rates of heterotrophic respiration and methane oxidation;
  1. Evaluating whether, and if so how, microbial activity is impacted by dispersants;
  1. Conduct toxicity studies to evaluate the impact of dispersants on larvae, phytoplankton, zooplankton, and microorganisms;
  1. Determine how the microbial community composition is altered by both dispersants and the presence of oil and gas;
  1. Determine how microbial degradation alters the composition of the complex oil mixture present in the waters;
  1. Quantify incorporation of oil and methane into higher trophic levels in the Gulfs food web;
  1. Quantify bioaccumulation of oil-derived toxins (e.g. PAHs) into fishery species;
  1. Develop oxygen and carbon budgets for different regions of the Gulf of Mexico that are a function of oil and methane inputs;
  1. Quantify the dynamics and movement of oil aggregates from the surface to mid water to deepwater and from deepwater to seafloor sediments;
  1. Evaluate benthic impacts of the BP blowout - both in terms of toxicity of the oil, fate of the oil, and potential impacts of water column hypoxia or anoxia - on sensitive benthic communities (chemosynthetic habitats and corals).

You may have seen Joye on The Rachel Maddow Show, where she told of her concerns in less complicated words:

MADDOW: And just to be clear and forgive my -- the speed at which I absorb these things because I'm not a scientist, but what you're saying is when microbes essentially eat the oil, they're also using up the oxygen in the water, and so, while that sort of bioremediation of these microbes going through the oil is a good thing in terms of getting rid of the oil, it also can create potentially dead zones where this water can't sustain living things.

JOYE: That's precisely correct. And things will survive in the low oxygen water, but any higher organism that requires oxygen won't be able to survive in that water. It will be -- will avoid it, if possible.

MADDOW: Is there any technology to clean up an undersea plume of oil? Is there any technology to clean up dispersed oil?

JOYE: Not that I'm aware of.

You may have heard that the EPA told BP to stop spraying us with Corexit, and use something less toxic. I heard it too, so we didn't dream it. That came about in part through the efforts of Rep. Edward Markey, 7th Congressional District of Massachusetts who started warning about these toxins back in May.

Markey Queries FDA on Dispersants in Fish, Food Chain  

With Continued Use of Chemicals, Chairman Asks for Details on Monitoring Regime, Human Health Impacts

WASHINGTON (May 25, 2010) – In light of continued use of chemical oil dispersants by BP, Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) today asked the Food and Drug Administration for information on how Gulf seafood that could be purchased and eaten by humans will be monitored for potential long-term exposure to chemicals.
“I am concerned that because these toxic chemicals were not intended to be used for such long durations, and were not intended to be used at such depths, there could be serious and unknown long-term consequences for the marine ecosystem, the food chain and human health,” Rep. Markey writes in a letter to FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg.  

“The FDA has an important role to play in monitoring the impact of the spill and the dispersants being used on our food supply, as the Gulf Coast fisheries will not recover from this disaster unless the public has confidence in the safety of seafood from the Gulf,” Rep. Markey explained.

At a briefing last week before the Energy and Environment Subcommittee in the Energy and Commerce Committee, which Rep. Markey chairs, ocean scientists, including experts in toxicology, expressed concern regarding the long-term effects of these chemicals on fish and other marine life in the Gulf of Mexico. They also explained that there were unknown consequences for human health as these animals consumed each other up the food chain, leading to human consumption of fish or other seafood from the Gulf.

In the letter today, Rep. Markey asks for additional information from the FDA on the monitoring and testing of seafood and other marine life for the presence of these chemicals, and the federal standards that exist to protect the public from consuming contaminated seafood.

Yesterday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency directed BP to reduce its use of dispersants, including the known-toxic chemical formulation called Corexit. However, BP will continue to use the dispersant at the sea floor to disperse the oil. To date, more than 800,000 gallons of dispersant have been applied either on the surface of the Gulf or at the spill source.

...U.S. Environmental Protection Agency directed BP to reduce its use of dispersants, including the known-toxic chemical formulation called Corexit...Remember that? I do. It was one of the times when I really felt like this administration was taking control of BP's clusterfuck.

But the next line of Rep. Markey's press release said BP is continuing the use of "the dispersant" at the sea floor.

Which dispersant? And why is it okay to use on the sea floor? How much?

I totally applaud Rep. Markey for his work on this, but I still have some questions. So I looked to the EPA and found this press release (the bold is mine):


Release date: 05/20/2010

Contact Information: 202-564-6794

WASHINGTON – Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a directive requiring BP to identify and use a less toxic and more effective dispersant from the list of EPA authorized dispersants. Dispersants are a chemical used to break up oil into small droplets so that they are more easily degraded.

The directive requires BP to identify a less toxic alternative – to be used both on the surface and under the water at the source of the oil leak – within 24 hours and to begin using the less toxic dispersant within 72 hours of submitting the alternative.

If BP is unable to identify available alternative dispersant products, BP must provide the Coast Guard and EPA with a detailed description of the alternative dispersants investigated, and the reason they believe those products did not meet the required standards.

EPA’s directive to BP can be found here

While the dispersant BP has been using is on the agency’s approved list, BP is using this dispersant in unprecedented volumes and, last week, began using it underwater at the source of the leak – a procedure that has never been tried before. Because of its use in unprecedented volumes and because much is unknown about the underwater use of dispersants, EPA wants to ensure BP is using the least toxic product authorized for use. We reserve the right to discontinue the use of this dispersant method if any negative impacts on the environment outweigh the benefits.

On May 15, EPA and the U.S. Coast Guard authorized BP to use dispersants underwater at the source of the Deepwater Horizon leak. As the dispersant is used underwater, BP is required to do constant, scientifically rigorous monitoring so EPA scientists may determine the dispersant’s effectiveness and impact on the environment, water and air quality, and human health. EPA is posting the information BP collects during the monitoring to ensure the public has access to this data. while in one paragraph the EPA says it has no idea what the underwater use of "this" dispersant will do, it goes right on in the next paragraph to say BP can use it, but monitor its use. Heh. ROFLMAO.

WTF? Does the EPA think it can trust BP to monitor this and give us the truth? Fool me once. What exactly will all this monitoring prove? That in 10 years we will see incredible health problems for people and death of the Gulf's wildlife like we have years later when the EPA told the people and rescuers of New York City that the dust in the air was just fine? Again, I am reminded of 9/11.

A big science experiment indeed.

There is a very complicated scientific EPA document on dispersants for you scientists out there who are interested. It's named: Dissolved oxygen measurement methods aboard the RV Brooks McCall May 2010. Here is a summation of it by the EPA for the rest of us:

EPA is working closely with its federal partners, including the U.S. Coast Guard and NOAA, to ensure an aggressive dispersant monitoring plan is implemented by BP and that data are regularly and rigorously reviewed.

To-date, the toxicity data does not indicate any significant effects on aquatic life. Moreover, decreased size of the oil droplets is a good indication that, so far, the dispersant is effective.

We are closely watching the dissolved oxygen levels, which so far remain in the normal range. Dissolved oxygen levels initially appeared low when measured with a device called a LaMotte tool. In order to conduct a more thorough analysis, more sensitive equipment was then employed, called an Extech Probe. The subsequent dissolved oxygen readings from the Extech Probe indicate that dissolved oxygen levels are within the normal range.

Safe and effective. Good. Now I can relax. And I feel so much better to know that the EPA is working so closely with the Coast Guard and NOAA to ensure BP doesn't lie to us about these dispersants. Don't you?

Oh, wait. Did you catch Rachel Maddow last night with Rep. Markey? Yea. Seems he is still concerned about the dispersants.

MADDOW: One of the response technologies that has been so controversial for this disaster, congressman, is the issue of dispersants.  
And one of the complications in -- around dispersants is the fact that dispersants are seen as proprietary technology, that the company that's make them don't disclose what's in them, they don't see a public responsibility in letting people know what the risks are, because they're marketing them as a for-profit product.  
Is that the sort of thing because dispersants are a big part of the way the industry imagines responding to spills.  
Should those patents be busted or where those should be nationalized so we can benefit from those industries without having to worry about the profit motive getting in the way?  

MARKEY: There is a -- an historic science project going on under the ocean in the Gulf of mexico.  
We have tens of millions of gallons of oil, we have natural gas.  
We are shooting it with hundreds of thousands of gallons of chemicals.  
It is creating underwater plumes.  
It is going to ultimately affect the fish, the fauna, everything that is inside that gulf of mexico which is so important to the livelihoods of people in that region and to our country.  
We cannot allow for these companies to be using dispersants, chemicals in ways that could ultimately have profound impacts on not only the food that is provided from that region from the fishing, but also the impact that it could ultimately have upon human beings.  
Because we are ultimately part of that food chain as we consume what is produced from that region.  
And so no longer can we allow for the oil industry to be using proprietary technology chemicals without a full disclosure of what it is and what the potential impact could be on the gulf and on human beings, because ultimately that is the chain that finally reaches us.  

MADDOW: Democratic congressman Ed Markey of Massachusetts, chairman of the House Energy and Environment Subcommittee, I think making some news tonight here with us both in that brief hearing today and in your comments right now on those proprietary dispersant formulas.  
Thank you very much for your time tonight, sir.  
We always appreciate it.  

MARKEY: Thank you so much for having me on.

Originally posted to the girl on Thu Jun 10, 2010 at 09:24 AM PDT.

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