Environmental and Health Impacts of the BP Gulf Oil Spill
Plus Necessary Resources for the Healthcare Provider
By Dr. Tom Termotto
THE COMING OF THE BLACK WAVE
Nothing in our shared cultural experience will prepare us better for the oncoming Black Wave throughout the Gulf of Mexico than the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill in Prince William Sound, Alaska. And yet even this environmental catastrophe falls far short of what is coming around the corner in the Gulf. Alaska is not Florida, or Louisiana, or Texas. The Deep South summer here in Tallahassee, FL has been as hot and humid as any we’ve seen. This weather pattern is what will distinguish the BP Gulf Oil Spill from the Exxon Valdez just as the total volume of the spill and use of dispersants have.
The relentless cycle of low pressure systems throughout the Gulf of Mexico during the summer season is instrumental in keeping the many toxic vapors close to the surface of the Gulf, as well as the many coastal communities that rim her. We are not only talking about petroleum VOC’s (volatile organic compounds) and the dispersant chemicals found in COREXIT and the hovering methane gas concentrations. We are also talking about the inevitable interactions and synergies among these chemical contaminants that produce much more powerful combinations, especially when they co-exist in such a conducive environment as the Gulf of Mexico hot and humid stewpot.
These realities in the water, and in the air, ought to be known by anyone participating in cleanup and recovery operations anywhere in the Gulf. To ignore them is to do so at great peril. The water has been polluted to a degree never seen on such a grand scale in US Territorial Waters. There simply is no precedent here. The Caspian Sea in Asia is a known petrochemical cesspool, which is so dead that all the bordering nations have given up on her and mercilessly plunder her depths for oil. How far behind is the Gulf of Mexico in the wake of this spill.
If you value your health, you ought not to eat seafood from the Gulf. If you value your health, you ought not to swim in the Gulf. If you value the health of your children, sensitive and delicate as they are during their formative stages, the affected Gulf Coast beaches are no longer a safe and healthy place on which to walk. Nor is wading in the water a safe practice until we know its true status.
The Black Wave of which we speak has many more aspects than the ones we have been hearing about in the mainstream media. There are dimensions that none have ever dared to whisper because it would mean the end of the Oil & Gas Industry for good. There are also phases of progression and retrogression of any oil spill, which will occur over the unique lifetime of this BP Gulf Oil Spill. As Mother Nature employs the tincture of time, Her ever so loyal elements will inexorably serve to heal all that requires healing on land, in the waters, and within the littoral regions to include the marshes, wetlands and estuaries. However, the process of healing will take time … perhaps a long time.
What do you get when you mix
oil & methane gas,
with oil dispersant (COREXIT),
with radioactive effluent,
with surface-burning oil slicks (petroleum+dispersant),
with lots of dead marine life of every sort and kind
in the Gulf of Mexico during a hot and humid summer?
A toxic petrochemical stew which is neither safe to eat from, nor swim in. The affected beaches, wetlands, marshes and estuaries should also be viewed with great caution, or avoided altogether.
Many in the MSM have been trumpeting the miraculous recovery of the Gulf of Mexico in the wake of the successful capping of the gushing oil well at the Macondo Prospect. Of course there are also those from whom common sense has not fled. Thankfully, we still have among us reasonable people who are able to utilize the human faculty of reason. We pray that there will be many others who will understand the simple facts of life in the Gulf, which has taken on an awesome toxic burden – a toxic load of various chemicals, pollutants, contaminants, and poisons that ought to be dealt with very carefully and with great circumspection.
Oil & Petroleum Derivatives:
Even though the WashPo recently published the account of 4.9 million barrels having been spilled into the Gulf of Mexico, our estimate is much closer to 9 million barrels of hydrocarbon effluent plus other components. The geyser gushed for just under 90 days, along with two other wells which gushed for a shorter period of time. Our calculation follows:
87 days X 100,000 barrels per day = 8.7 million barrels of hydrocarbon effluent (oil + methane + particulates [sand, stones, gravel, debris from deep down under])
Factoid – It only takes 1 barrel of oil to effectively pollute one million barrels of seawater.
“Crude oil has proven toxicity at 1 part per million, with constituents like benzene exhibiting genotoxicity in the parts per billion range. The dispersants have made the oil “disappear,” according to the mainstream media, and yet we have marine toxicology documents PROVING that the dispersants PREVENT the natural break…down of some constituents of the oil, e.g. the lesser soluble hydrocarbons, e.g. naphthalene.”
Petroleum and its many derivatives bio-accumulate within living organisms and will concentrate in adipose tissue in human beings. It contains many different chemical constituents that will break down, each of which possesses different levels of toxicity to marine and human life.
“Crude oil is a mixture of many different kinds of organic compounds, many of which are highly toxic and cancer causing (carcinogenic). Oil is “acutely lethal” to fish, that is, it kills fish quickly at a concentration of 4000 parts per million (ppm) (0.4%). “It only takes one quart of motor oil to make 250,000 gallons of ocean water toxic to wildlife.” This would be a concentration of only 1 ppm. Crude oil and petroleum distillates cause birth defects.
Benzene is present in both crude oil and gasoline and is known to cause leukemia in humans. The compound is also known to lower the white blood cell count in humans, which would leave people exposed to it more susceptible to infections. “Studies have linked benzene exposure in the mere parts per billion (ppb) range to terminal leukemia, Hodgkins lymphoma, and other blood and immune system diseases within 5-15 years of exposure.” ” (Per Wikipedia)
“Benzene exposure at below 1 part per million (1 ppm) causes hematotoxicity in exposed workers.” (Per Gulf Oil Spill Truth)
Extraordinarily high methane gas concentrations have been measured at many different locations throughout the Gulf and can migrate over Coastal communities with the right meteorological push. CH4, aka methane, can produce many symptoms depending on the concentration and duration of exposure.
What are the main health hazards associated with breathing in methane?
“Methane is not toxic below the lower explosive limit of 5% (50000 ppm). However, when methane is present at high concentrations, it acts as an asphyxiant. Asphyxiants displace oxygen in the air and can cause symptoms of oxygen deprivation (asphyxiation). The available oxygen should be a minimum of 18% or harmful effects will result. Methane displaces oxygen to 18% in air when present at 14% (140000 ppm). It is not expected to cause unconsciousness (narcosis) due to central nervous system depression until it reaches much higher concentrations (30% or 300000 ppm) – well above the lower explosive limit and asphyxiating concentrations.
Effects of oxygen deficiency are:
12-16% – breathing and pulse rate are increased, with slight muscular incoordination;
10-14% – emotional upsets, abnormal fatigue from exertion, disturbed respiration;
6-10% – nausea and vomiting, inability to move freely, collapse, possible lack of consciousness;
below 6% – convulsive movements, gasping, possible respiratory collapse and death.
Since exercise increases the body’s need for oxygen, symptoms will occur more quickly during exertion in an oxygen-deficient environment. Survivors of oxygen deprivation may show damage to some or all organs including the central nervous system and the brain. These effects may or may not be reversible with time, depending on the degree and duration of the low oxygen and the amount of tissue injury.” (Per Canadian Centre for Occupational Health & Safety)
Another significant environmental impact caused by methane is the rapid depletion of oxygen in the aquatic environment. This will have many adverse effects on all marine life, especially those aerobic microbes that assist in bio-degrading the petroleum. Their oil-eating effectiveness will surely be compromised, just as all other aerobic organisms will suffer due to hypoxia (insufficient oxygen).
The total volume of COREXIT dispersant released in and on the Gulf is still being hotly debated. However, in light of the intractable pattern of both non-disclosure and misinformation practiced by BP, as well as the interference run by the Coast Guard over the course of this saga, what can we believe?
Our guarded estimate of the total volume of dispersant used by BP both subsea and on the surface is fast approaching two (2) million gallons of Corexit.
The exact calculation, based upon formal reports filed as of August 2, is as follows:
Surface dispersant used: 1, 072,514 gallons
Subsea dispersant used: 771,272 gallons
Total dispersant used: 1,843,786 gallons
The following link points to an article, which contains the very telling statement:
“But some scientists say the chemical mixture, which at one point was being released at a rate of about 70,000 gallons a day, causes more harm than good, and may have contributed to huge plumes of hydrocarbons below the ocean’s surface. The fact that Corexit now seems to have been so widely used also poses the question of who, exactly, is calling the shots in the Gulf.”
The following article lays bare some of the greatest concerns by those in the field of toxicology. Dr. Shaw offers some invaluable toxicological perspective.
Dr. Shaw offered a stark analysis of Corexit 9500 in her piece for The New York Times.
“Though all dispersants are potentially dangerous when applied in such volumes, Corexit  is particularly toxic,” she wrote. “It contains petroleum solvents and a chemical that, when ingested, ruptures red blood cells and causes internal bleeding. It is also bioaccumulative, meaning its concentration intensifies as it moves up the food chain.”
Speaking to CNN on Friday, her message was a bit more dire.
“It ruptures red blood cells, causes internal bleeding and liver and kidney damage,” Dr. Shaw said. “This stuff is so toxic — combined, it’s not the oil alone, it’s not the dispersant — the dispersed oil that still contains this stuff, it’s very, very toxic and it goes right through skin.”
Factoid: COREXIT’s interaction with petroleum is particularly troubling in that dispersed oil causes a much higher rate of mortality in fish than either the oil or dispersant alone. As compared with only oil, Corexit-laden oil is four times more lethal; dispersed oil is ten times more deadly than the dispersant alone. (See detailed analysis below)
Radioactive Hydrocarbon Effluent:
Then there is the radioactive component of the hydrocarbon effluent that comes from mantle-generated abiotic oil (See link below) and which irrefutably possesses higher levels of radium isotopes. The deeper the petroleum reserves, the more likely the reservoirs of oil and methane in those geological formations will contain uranium, thorium or radium. Given the elevated levels of radioactivity at the source, the level of radioactivity associated with the hydrocarbon effluent coming out of the well will inevitably be impacted.
It is very important to note that the American Petroleum Institute acknowledges the existence of radium in the development of oil and gas prospects. Their website prescribes very specific standard operating procedures when certain levels of radioactivity are measured on site or in the equipment. The seriousness of this matter can pertain to any oil and gas drilling and development operations anywhere in the world.
Radium isotopes have inherent health risks that ought to be identified and properly disseminated. The concerned resident of the Gulf Coast may want to initiate him/herself in the area of health impacts due to long-term exposure to low grade radioactivity. Of course, the seafood, the waters and the beaches all provide different vehicles for such contamination to take place, each with varying consequences.
Oil Burned On The Surface Of The Gulf:
It has been estimated that 11.1 million gallons of oil have been burned on the surface of the Gulf thus far. The resulting aerosolizing of the hydrocarbon chemical constituents, along with the dispersant chemical constituents will produce vectors of dissemination that must be further studied. Such a high concentration of harmful airborne chemicals and contaminants, especially if there is a radioactive component, could pose a great health risk to all life residing downwind from the surface oil-burning activity.
We could even see similarities to Gulf War Syndrome experienced by US Service Members who were downwind from the burning oil fields in Kuwait.
Parallels to Gulf War Syndrome:
After the First Gulf War in Iraq, many service members returned home only to be plagued by what came to be known as Gulf War Syndrome. As a matter of fact, there were so many different variants of this syndrome, depending on the service members time and place of duty (and therefore exposures), that many healthcare practitioners recognized a Gulf War Syndrome I, II, III and so on. Each one had it own unique signatures that produced different symptoms and illnesses.
The most serious result of Gulf War Syndrome variants were the numerous instances where the veterans subsequently had children who were deformed or who had defects that were directly the result of genetic mutation. Could a toxic cocktail of pre-war vaccinations and exposure to oil well fires produce such an effect so quickly? Not likely, unless there was much more to (and in) the vaccine regimen that we do not know. However there is one thing we have learned about the development of oil and gas reserves which we did not know until recently.
There is a radioactive component found within geological formation from where oil and gas are pulled. This fact has been scientifically documented by the American Petroleum Institute, as well as by many petroleum engineers, geologists and scientists from around the world for many years. Curiously it is rarely ever talked about and even denied in some circles, as it would have probably caused the demise of the entire industry.
It now appears that the US service members who suffered the most, and especially those who bore children with unusual and inexplicable defects were directly exposed to radioactive hydrocarbons. When Saddam Hussein ordered the destruction of the oil and gas wells by setting them on fire, Iraq was transformed into a sort of Oil & Gas Armageddon. Whoever was present was exposed to these toxic and potentially radioactive fumes. And since they were breathed in, it translated to a much quicker physical manifestation in the human body. Ultimately the black, acrid smoke would find numerous vectors of dissemination, which would allow the toxic constituents to settle on the ground, on the vegetation and food, and in the water bodies and courses.
The consequent aerosol toxic brew is certainly one that is not too unlike what is occurring this very moment throughout the Gulf of Mexico. As BP et al. has taken to burning the many oil slicks and oil plumes that are being aggregated, we see a very similar set of circumstances, which could very well contribute to a future BP Gulf Oil Spill Syndrome.
Dead & Contaminated Marine Life Working Its Way Up The Gulf’s Food Chain:
Lastly, we have a Gulf of Mexico that is replete with dead organisms both microscopic (phytoplankton) and leviathan (whales). This does include plant and animal life of great diversity. Vast swaths of the food chain have been toxified and poisoned by the current petrochemical brew, which by all appearances may appear to be normal. However….
This is where it takes a seasoned observer and astute investigator applying all the necessary scientific process and procedure to accurately diagnose the true condition of this traumatized body of water. All chemicals don’t merely break down instantaneously, as we often hear from the Oil & Gas Industry wordsmiths. As a matter of fact, many are ultimately reduced to such a state that they will have no where to go but to bio-accumulate within the tissues of living organisms. These various chemicals are currently being evaluated for their degree of toxicity and reactivity in vivo (within living organisms).
There is no question that, given the total volume of oil and dispersant currently in the Gulf, there will inevitably be substantial and dire consequences to the entire food chain. Particularly as the larvae at the bottom of this chain pick up the various chemicals and contaminants, and are subsequently eaten by larger and then larger marine animals, we will see threats emerge to that segment of the human population which continues to eat the seafood from the Gulf. GREAT time to become a vegetarian!
Deep South Weather Pattern:
We are in the throes of an extremely hot and humid weather pattern here in the Deep South. The Low Pressure Systems forming over the Gulf of Mexico have been relentless since the BP Gulf Oil Spill first began. These are characterized by low cloud cover, little air movement, high humidity and very hot conditions which make it ideal for aerosolized chemicals and toxins to hang close to the surface of the Gulf. This predominant weather pattern has created a very hospitable environment for an exacerbation of the many symptoms associated with the aforementioned chemical exposures.
The blood brain barrier is a “chemical labyrinth that prevents toxins and viruses in the bloodstream from reaching the brain”. However, this layer is only four cells thick around the olfactory nerve, where it is more tenuous and not an integral barrier. This very delicate and attenuated structure in the nasal system will therefore provide a point of entry into the brain for harmful toxins which are airborne. For those out on the Gulf who are exposed to VOC’s (volatile organic compounds) in the air, they ought to have respirators around any oil cleanup operations. Not to wear one utilize puts their health in peril, which can manifest in the following ways:
“Eye, nose, and throat irritation; headaches, loss of coordination, nausea; damage to liver, kidney, and central nervous system. Some organics can cause cancer in animals; some are suspected or known to cause cancer in humans. Key signs or symptoms associated with exposure to VOCs include conjunctival irritation, nose and throat discomfort, headache, allergic skin reaction, dyspnea, declines in serum cholinesterase levels, nausea, emesis, epistaxis, fatigue, dizziness.
The ability of organic chemicals to cause health effects varies greatly from those that are highly toxic, to those with no known health effect. As with other pollutants, the extent and nature of the health effect will depend on many factors including level of exposure and length of time exposed. Eye and respiratory tract irritation, headaches, dizziness, visual disorders, and memory impairment are among the immediate symptoms that some people have experienced soon after exposure to some organics.” (Per US Environmental Protection Agency)
Parallels to 911 Toxic Dust Syndrome:
The many first responders who showed up at the 911 rubble pile in NYC suffer from a unique malady known as 911 Toxic Dust Syndrome. And although it has yet to be officially recognized by the US Federal Government, it has a specific set of baseline symptoms which are exhibited by many, even those who were present when the Twin Towers came down. There are many who lived and worked in the same general vicinity who also experience symptoms to this day.
The health and medical records of many first responders who have passed away since 911 will also reveal that they exhibited none of these unique symptoms prior to 911. Therefore, many of these deaths were caused directly by a disease process that was triggered by their exposure to the aerosolized toxic dust that came to permeate a large swath of lower Manhattan. These same records will also reveal a similar pattern of health issues and medical diagnoses which is very similar to those who are still living with the
pain and suffering associated with 911 TOXIC DUST SYNDROME.
One of the real tragedies of the 911 saga is that the EPA assured the people of NYC, and especially the cleanup workers, that everything was okay with air quality when it was obvious to everyone else in the world that it was not okay. If it sounds familiar then it is probably because you either read or heard the following story.
Here’s one of the most recent examples of deliberate disinformation, misinformation and false information disseminated by the corporate/government/media juggernaut regarding the BP Gulf Oil Spill. The new and improved BP PR Campaign that is addressing the environmental health aspects of this oil spill has gone into full gear in order to assure everyone that everything is okay. BP’s COO, Doug Suttles is quoted as follows:
“BP’s chief operating officer sought to give the southern US fishing industry a much-need boost Sunday, saying he’d “absolutely” eat Gulf of Mexico seafood after the massive oil spill devastated the region.”
We, here at the Gulf Oil Spill Remediation Conference in Tallahassee, FL, would very much like to audit the actual seafood sources from which Mr. Suttles takes his daily lunch and evening supper over the next twelve months. We would also ask that he partakes of at least one meal a day which includes seafood from the Gulf of Mexico, specifically from within a one hundred mile radius of the Macondo Prospect. At the end of the first year we will have our physicians standing by to conduct either an autopsy or the appropriate pathology procedures that would be required at that point of evolution of the most likely diseases to be caused by oil and COREXIT poisoning.
Interactions, Synergies, & Dangerous Combinations:
The area of research that studies the effects of different combinations of these chemical constituents is at an alarmingly rudimentary stage of development. Therefore, we really do not know the long-term effects of the various chemicals that, through synergistic interactions, can ramp up their level of toxicity in living organisms. Because we are particularly concerned about the deleterious effects to human life, it may be very difficult to ever assess these health risks. Who among us would avail our person to such exposures for the sake of testing?
We can make the following three (3) statements about oil, dispersant (Corexit 9500) and dispersed oil per the EPA website link that follows:
(1) 10.72 parts per million (ppm) of oil alone will kill 50% of the fish test species in a normal aquatic environment within 96 hours.
(2) 25.20 parts per million of dispersant (Corexit 9500) alone will kill 50% of the fish test species in a normal aquatic environment within 96 hours.
(3) 2.61 parts per million of dispersed oil (Corexit-laden) alone will kill 50% of the fish test species in a normal aquatic environment within 96 hours.
“Crude oil has proven toxicity at 1 part per million, with constituents like benzene exhibiting genotoxicity in the parts per billion range. The dispersants have made the oil “disappear,” according to the mainstream media, and yet we have marine toxicology documents PROVING that the dispersants PREVENT the natural break…down of some constituents of the oil, e.g. the lesser soluble hydrocarbons, e.g. naphthalene.” (Per Gulf Oil Spill Truth)
As you can see from the above statements, there is a very definite synergistic effect that directly results from the interaction between the oil and dispersant. Together they create a much more toxic environment, and should be considered very seriously when seafood is known to be coming from those locations.
Are there other more dangerous combinations to be aware of? We don’t know and toxicologists usually study isolated chemical compounds rather than researching the results of their various combinations.
Moral of the Story: What we do not know may hurt us. And in some cases it may take years to show up as a symptom or a disease. Perhaps it is better to err on the side of caution where it concerns our precious health.
This state of affairs also illustrates how unintended consequences, collateral damage and toxic side effects all collide in a rather finite system called the Gulf of Mexico with far-reaching ramifications. Contrary to what the BP spinmeisters convey to the media and government, the Gulf IS full of oil. Because some of it has been dispersed into tiny droplets, doesn’t mean it isn’t there. Because much of the spilled oil exists in many different locations, as well as in different conditions, and is out of sight, out of mind, doesn’t mean it’s not there. Oil doesn’t just disappear, as some would have us believe!
(1) The pools on the undersea floor are under extremely high pressure and very low temperature, and therefore require a uniquely creative solution.
(2) The plumes at, above and below the midline exhibit there own behavior and challenges.
(3) The surface plumes, oil slicks and screens are more easily addressed except when they migrate into the wetlands, marshes and littoral regions. These predicaments pose great challenges no matter what the solutions, especially when they coat the beaches, as the sun and heat and gravity encourage the oil to sink into the sand as it did in Prince William Sound, Alaska after the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill.
Here’s what Admiral Thad Allen of the Coast Guard BP Oil Spill Response Team said about the difficulty of dealing with oil accumulations scattered throughout the Gulf:
“What we have is an aggregation of hundreds of thousands of patches of oil and the challenge is to find out where they are at right now because they are widely dispersed,” said U.S. spill response chief Thad Allen.
Pressed further on the patches, Allen relented: “Maybe patches is a misnomer on my part. What we’re seeing are mats, patties, small concentrations, very hard to detect, but they’re out there.” (Per canada.com)
Obvious Health and Medical Impacts:
The Exxon Valdez Oil Spill in Prince William Sound, Alaska showed us the most obvious health impacts that will inevitably occur wherever there are many communities affected directly by the spilt oil, methane releases, wanton use of dispersants, contaminated seafood, denial by government and oil company alike, etc. The greatest lesson learned from that catastrophic oil spill was the unanticipated and long lingering psychological impacts which only intensified with time right up to this very day. So profound and devastating were these psychological effects, that the very social, economic and political fabric of a vast area of Alaska was forever altered.
People will no doubt show up, as they always do, to help the process of getting things back to normal. However, normal will never return in our lifetimes, and we should therefore seek to protect ourselves from all that can do harm, and will do harm in several different ways. Certainly protection of our families and friends, home and property, businesses and other possessions ought to be a high priority for all concerned. However, it is the stability of our mental state, emotional attitude, and general psychological posture which deserves the most attention. Maintaining a positive and refreshed outlook each and every day is of paramount importance.
At the end of the day the mental and emotional health repercussions of the BP Gulf oil spill disaster will be the most challenging as it was in Alaska. From all with whom we have spoken, we have heard the same litany of mental and emotional problems which seem to surface wherever the Black Wave appears. As the social fabric slowly tears, so do the many support systems upon which we all rely weaken, especially during these already quite tumultuous and challenging times.
Most of these mental and emotional health repercussions will appear as psychological maladies that typically emerge from many different forms of loss, and especially the unresolved grief associated with such unexpected and jolting loss. Loss of job, loss of business, and loss of financial security are some examples. So are loss of health, loss of relationships, and loss of access to the beach. We also see loss of home, loss of a way of life and loss of traditional foods. Fisherman can no longer go out in their boats; beachgoers forgo their morning shelling routine; joggers take to the pavement instead of the sand.
There are numerous symptoms, ailments and illnesses that are the direct result of exposure to an oil spill which can be gleaned from various sources. Some of these resources have been provided by organizations that have been directly involved with oil spill mitigation and remediation. In some cases they have been able to closely follow the development of disease in any given population, which was exposed to many of the same chemical contaminants that are found at different oil spill sites throughout the world.
HEALTHCARE SOLUTIONS AND RESOURCES
Gulf Oil Spill Health Hazards
BLACK WAVE: The Legacy of the Exxon Valdez
Minimizing Adverse Health Effects Through Transparency & Intelligent Mitigation Responses
Gulf Oil Spill Truth
We have before us a defining moment in American history. An entire region of the country has been beset with a manmade environmental catastrophe, the effects of which will be felt for generations. How do we respond to the Black Wave? How de we deal with a foreign, multi-national corporation that is as addicted to drilling for oil as it is to deception?! How do we respond to the Federal Government that demonstrates a similar pattern of disinformation?!
We ask these questions in the face of the many health and medical impacts that are most assuredly coming down the pike. More than ever we need our focus and energy directed at the real health challenges and subsequent medical issues which will emerge if we are not aware and well informed. Where there is true and accurate information, there can be informed and wise decisions about how we can continue to live our lives in a healthy manner along the Gulf Coast of Mexico.
Tom Termotto, BCIM, DCAE
Gulf Oil Spill Remediation Conference (International Citizens’ Initiative)