Focus on oil dispersants clouded by secrecy

ProPublica digs into whether oil dispersants mitigate disastrous impacts from the massive oil spill in the Gulf or compound the disaster.

One sentence will catch the eye of transparency-minded readers:  “The exact makeup of the dispersant is kept secret under competitive trade laws.” (H/T Newspaper Association of America‘s Sophia Cope.)  Given the scope of the environmental and economic disaster unfolding in the Gulf, and the uncertainty about whether dispersants are doing more harm than good, the public has a right to know all that science can tell us about this particular strategy.

This particular substance is controlled under the Toxics Substances Control Act, which makes it very difficult to know what exactly is in the product.  It includes an acid, the specifics of which are kept confidential.  There is some information made available from agencies to the public.  Specifically, The standard Material Safety Data Sheet, which describes the chemical makeup and actions to take if a chemical contacts humans, for this chemical product is available here:

Material Safety Data Sheets are created for particular chemical and are kept at workplaces that handle specific chemical products.  They are available, but it really is useful when people are accidentally exposed to the chemical.

People are probably not aware that companies register chemical testing on products controlled under TSCA, and the Environmental Protection Agency makes that registry searchable at try it out, in the search form at the link, enter “111-76-2” in the “CAS No.” field.  This is the chemical code identifying the Corexit, the chemical dispersant now used in the Gulf. There you’ll find only summaries of the studies — teasers. And even then you need to be a scientist or a really good science reporter to make heads or tails of what’s there.

In situations where the public interest in knowing what science can tell us about the chemical product we’re blasting into the Gulf of Mexico in a vast, untested experiment to stop a petroleum hemorrhage in deep waters that threatens life in nature and livelihood in the Gulf Coast, the federal government, private companies and the industry they are a part of ought to do the right thing and make public all  the science they’re holding that sheds light on how the government and private sector are responding to this very current environmental and economic crisis.


About sunshineingov
Coordinator of the Sunshine in Government Initiative

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