BP's Oil Dispersants Linked to Cancer

Employment and business losses caused by BP's oil spill are serious, of course, but those losses can be eclipsed by the human misery caused by cancer. BP's oil dispersants have been linked to cancer. Chemical dispersants were used by BP to help clean up the mammoth oil spill. They break up oil into smaller particles that ultimately move the oil from the surface of water or shores into the water column for ultimate distribution elsewhere in smaller concentrations.

Some 4.9 million barrels of oil gushed into the Gulf of Mexico. And 1.8 million gallons of dispersant were spread by BP during the 3-month long ordeal. The dispersants covered the waters and shores of Florida, Alabama, and Louisiana. Five of the ingredients in the dispersants, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, are linked to cancer.

Of course, BP didn't make this information public. It came from a Freedom of Information Act request by the Florida Wildlife Federation, The Gulf Restoration Network, and Earthjustice, among others. Their report, "The Chaos of Clean-Up: Analysis of Potential Health and Environmental Impacts of Chemicals in Dispersant Products" emphasizes the fact that some dispersants are safer than others.

An Earthjustice spokesman said, "The testing (for safety) can't be done at the moment of the disaster; it has to be done ahead of time to avoid chaos." That meant that little was done to determine what dispersant should be used in this disaster to provide the utmost safety to the populations along the Gulf coast.

The medical problems from dispersants documented so far include loss of memory, seizures, severe abdominal pain, fatigue, irritability, and other neurological and endocrine problems, but, now, with cancer as a possibility, the stakes are higher. The fault may not lie solely, or at all, with BP. The dispersant manufacturers tend to keep secret the ingredients in their products, possibly because they know their dangers.

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