The dispersant most often used during the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill might cause damage to cells in human lungs and in the gills of fish and crabs, according to a study published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal.
The study by researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, published in the PLOS One online journal, also found an enzyme triggered by the Corexit 9600 dispersant compound in humans and animals might be used to protect against the harm caused by the chemicals in the dispersant.
Cough, shortness of breath and sputum production were among symptoms expressed by workers.”
Dr. Veena Antony, a professor of medicine, engineering and environmental health sciences at the university and one of the authors of the report, said there a number of clean-up workers seen in emergency rooms along the Gulf Coast with respiratory complaints, including asthma-like conditions during the time the oil was being removed from the Gulf.
There were about 48,000 workers participating in the cleanup in the Gulf and along the shores of the five Gulf Coast states where oil went ashore.
The research showed the Corexit also triggered the creation of heme oxygenase-1, or HO-1, which is an anti-oxidant and fights the cell-killing effects of the chemical, Dr. Antony said.
Antony said she hopes HO-1 can be turned into a drug, in the form of a pill, that might be taken by those experiencing asthma-like symptoms after being exposed to dispersants in future oil spills.
“The paper published by the University of Alabama at Birmingham provides no data to suggest that response workers or aquatic life were exposed to harmful levels of dispersants in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon Accident,” said BP spokesman Jason Ryan. “The laboratory study focused not on whether dispersants had an impact in the gulf, but on how a respiratory effect could occur and how any such effect could be counteracted.”
According to a Coast Guard “After Action Report” on dispersants, about 973,000 gallons of dispersant were applied from the air by a team of about 300 people, using 20 aircraft to conduct 412 spray sorties over 90 days. No spraying was allowed within 3 miles of shore, according to the Coast Guard.
Another 771,000 gallons of the Corexit 9500 blend was injected into the stream of oil leaving the BP Macondo well a mile below the surface.
(Source: The Times Picayune)