Allison Kilkenny: Unreported

BP using toxic dispersants despite availability of safer alternatives

Posted in corporations, politics by allisonkilkenny on May 26, 2010

A beach after an oil spill.
This afternoon I spoke with John Sheffield, president of Alabaster Corporation, which makes Sea Brat 4, a safer, less toxic alternative to Corexit, the chemical dispersant BP is currently using in the Gulf.

Sheffield voiced his frustration that — despite the fact that Sea Brat is safer than Corexit, ready to be shipped, EPA-approved, and his company is capable of producing enough product to cope with the spill — BP has decided to instead go with Corexit.

He blames the Corexit monopoly on the fact that one of the board members of Nalco (the company that makes Corexit) is Rodney F. Chase, a former BP board member. This cozy relationship with BP provides Nalco with unique access to the big business of oil spill cleanup, Sheffield says.

Additionally, switching to Sea Brat would basically entail BP acknowledging that they’ve known about a safer dispersant alternative for decades, and despite the UK banning Corexit, and now the EPA requesting BP find a safer dispersant, BP decided to press forth with a chemical that bears a “striking molecular resemblance to anti-freeze.”

BP provided the following statement after ignoring the EPA’s directive to find a less toxic alternative to Corexit (via):

BP’s response below considers the criteria set forth in the directive in the following order (1) dispersants with a toxicity value greater than or equal to 32.00 ppm LC50 toxicity value for Menidia or 18.00 ppm LC50 for Mysidopis [sic], as indicated on the NCP Product Schedule, (2) the availability based on existing stockpiles, the estimated time to begin aerial and subsurface application, and time for manufacturing, shipping and warhousing, and (3) as effective as Corexit EC9500A at dispersing the oil plume. As discussed below, given the above criteria, BP continues to believe that Corexit EC9500A is the best alternative.

Except, it’s obvious BP’s claims aren’t true just by looking at the NCP Product Schedule toxicity table:

Corexit fails to meet criteria number one, while Sea Brat meets the requirement with its 18 ppm LC50 for Mysidopsis.

For the second requirement, I asked Sheffield if his company could keep up with the dispersant orders, especially now that the catastrophe in the Gulf demands such a sharp increase in production. He responded without hesitation that, yes, his company could meet the demand. There are 100,000 gallons of Sea Brat on hand right now, ready to be shipped out.

For the third criteria, Sea Brat’s effectiveness outshines Corexit EC9500A’s performance in almost every crude oil sample.

I brought up a couple possible explanations for why BP may be dodging the Sea Brat solution to Sheffield. Perhaps BP’s cozy relationship with Nalco explained why smaller companies like Alabaster are getting forced out.

“Absolutely. From the start, we have known that. That sort of thing is general knowledge,” says Sheffield. “It’s common knowledge between us, people we know, even people we have communicated with who are employees of BP…the general consensus is that ‘you guys will be lucky if you get anything…People like us get shut out.’”

Also, by admitting that Sea Brat is a safer alternative, BP would have to own the consequences of using toxic dispersants, especially when one considers the company has known about Sea Brat for over a decade. Sheffield tells me he even has reference letter from BP. “BP’s been buying product from us for 15 years. I can tell you, honestly, they’ve bought 20-to-30, maybe 50,000 gallons of similar product over the years. So they’re aware of it. It was they who contacted me, you know, a month ago,” says Sheffield.

“I believe the safer product is being intentionally suppressed,” says Sheffield. He believes if the industry started using the safer, more effective dispersants, they would never be able to go back to using the more dangerous, less effective chemicals. I asked him if he thought BP was also avoiding making the switch because doing so inherently means acknowledging their use of a toxic, ineffective dispersant.

“Correct. Correct. It’s a hell of a lot bigger than just, ‘Oh well. We’re gonna lose out on several million in sales for the next few weeks to some little pip-squeak company that wants to sell this product.’ It’s a hell of a lot more than that. The deal is, once it gets out there that this [product] really works..the oil company is gonna have to really clean up something. That’s part of it.

Then they’re also gonna have to have accountability. They’ve known about this for twenty years, and they haven’t been using this stuff. They continue to use the toxic stuff. I mean, that’s pretty much hitting the nail on the head, what you said. It’s not just a competitive product that will blow them away…It’ll shine a light on the environmental calamity that’s been caused over the years by all these oil companies.”

2 Responses

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  1. […] which have been banned in the UK, ignoring the EPA’s pleas to find a less toxic (and extremely available) […]

  2. […] restraining order also demands that BP stop using Corexit, the toxic dispersant, which has been banned in the UK. The safety data information sheet from the manufacturer states […]


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