Thursday, June 17, 2010

BP Oil Spill: Case of "Toxic" Dispersant

Bloomberg reports that a class-action lawsuit has been filed in federal court in New Orleans against BP and Nalco, manufacturer of the chemical dispersant that BP has been using.

The suits claims that "is four times more toxic than the oil itself", and that "the dispersant has been sprayed over the Gulf of Mexico and has caused a toxic chemical to be a permanent part of the sea bed and food chain in the bio structure"; and the chemical causes "an even more dangerous condition to exist in the Gulf of Mexico than if the oil was allowed to float to the shoreline."

Ever distrustful of trial lawyers, I decided to check what exactly are these horrific toxic chemicals.

What is a dispersant? It is essentially a detergent made up of cleaning agent, emulsifier and surfactant.

Nalco, whose largest institutional investor is Warren Buffett of Berkshire Hathaway, has the chemical components of the dispersant, COREXIT, on its website:



Common Day-to-Day Use Examples


Sorbitan, mono-(9Z)-9-octadecenoate

Skin cream, body shampoo, emulsifier in juice


Sorbitan, mono-(9Z)-9-octadecenoate, poly(oxy-1,2-ethanediyl) derivs.

Baby bath, mouth wash, face lotion, emulsifier in food


Sorbitan, tri-(9Z)-9-octadecenoate, poly(oxy-1,2-ethanediyl) derivs

Body/Face lotion, tanning lotions


* Butanedioic acid, 2-sulfo-, 1,4-bis(2-ethylhexyl) ester, sodium salt (1:1)

Wetting agent in cosmetic products, gelatin, beverages


Propanol, 1-(2-butoxy-1-methylethoxy)

Household cleaning products


Distillates (petroleum), hydrotreated light

Air freshener, cleaner


** Ethanol, 2-butoxy


* Contains 2-Propanediol

** This chemical component (Ethanol, 2-butoxy-) is NOT included in the composition of COREXIT 9500

What BP is using is COREXIT 9500, without 2-butoxy ethanol, which is used widely in household cleaning solutions (Windex, Simple Green, to name a few). It decomposes within a few days in the environment.

Hydrotreated light distillates is Mineral Oil, used as lubricant and cleaner.

Butanedioic acid is used in industrial hand cleaner, paint stripper, body soap, and as food additive. It is readily biodegradable.

Sorbitan is a surfactant used as an emulsifier (i.e. mixing two hard-to-mix substances like water and oil), and is widely used in cosmetics and personal care items like shampoo and soap.

1-Propanol is a primary alcohol used as solvent in pharmaceutical industry. It degrades rapidly in the environment, and has low aquatic toxicity.

And we are supposed to be so scared of these 'toxic' chemicals. Then we are beset with 'toxic' chemicals every day all around us, and we don't even need to dive in the Gulf of Mexico to get exposed.


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