BP says Corexit dispersant toxin found in more than 15% of oil cleanup workers; Figure likely much higher

Friday, July 9, 2010
By Paul Martin

July 9th, 2010

In an under-the-radar release of new test results for its Gulf of Mexico oil spill workers, BP PLC is reporting potentially hazardous exposures… among more than 20 percent of offshore responders.

BP’s new summary of chemical testing, posted to its website this week after a nearly monthlong absence of new data, also makes notable revisions to the company’s public characterization of the health risks facing Gulf workers. The oil giant now describes the government as a partner in developing the program for monitoring cleanup crews.

In a June 9 report on worker test results, BP confidently asserted that the health hazards of exposure to both dispersant chemicals and the components of leaking crude “are very low.”

In its latest summary, BP replaced those three words with an assurance that health risks “have been carefully considered in the selection of the various methods employed in addressing its spill.”

2-butoxyethanol was detected at levels up to 10 parts per million (ppm) in more than 20 percent of offshore responders and 15 percent of those near shore.

The NIOSH standard for 2-butoxyethanol, which lacks the force of law but is considered more health-protective than the higher OSHA limit, is 5 ppm. Some public-health advocates pointed out that BP references the NIOSH ceiling of each chemical it tested for except 2-butoxyethanol, an ingredient in the Corexit 9527 dispersant…

Natural Resources Defense Council Senior Scientist Gina Solomon described BP’s continued offshore 2-butoxyethanol detection during the month of June as “worrisome.”

“It suggests to me that there is still, clearly, a serious air-quality concern. … [Gulf] air quality, if anything, seems to be deteriorating,” Solomon said.

Hunter College toxicology professor Frank Mirer said it would be “implausible” that the ongoing detection of 2-butoxyethanol among workers could be attributable to only BP’s early use of Corexit 9527. …

“We had a humongous amount of data after 9/11,” [New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health industrial
hygienist David Newman, who served on a U.S. EPA expert panel that
evaluated lingering public health risks after the Sept. 11 attacks] said. “Most if not all of the data were reassuring. And yet harm was done.”

Catlin echoed Newman’s warning. “There are certainly some folks saying, ‘Look at all this data, everything looks good,’” he said, “but we saw that same thing on the Exxon Valdez. … The summary data BP provides is too sketchy to be able to give a clean bill of health.”

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