National Public Radio has a fantastic set of stories out this morning about the growing controversy surrounding Corexit, the chemical BP is using to disperse oil pouring form the uncapped well of the sunken Deepwater Horizon rig. In short, BP has been pouring Corexit into the Gulf of Mexico to the tune of tens of thousands of gallons each day to help disperse the thick oil. However, we simply do not know the consequences of long-term Corexit toxicity to ocean life — everything from the fish we eat to the microbes which form the basis of ocean ecosystems.
The concern isn’t that Corexit itself will kill all ocean life. Instead, the real fear is that Corexit will act as an endocrine disruptor on marine life. Endocrine disruptors are compounds that mimic biological hormones. They get into the body, chemically masquerade as hormones, and disrupt the body’s natural signaling processes. Hormones govern everything from metabolism to sexual development — so, endocrine disruptors in the environment have the potential to devastate whole ecosystems, even in small doses. Plus, endocrine disruptors can settle into the environment and persist for decades, as we’re seeing with the many endocrine disruptors leaching out from today’s plastic compounds. We’re not sure what the effects of these endocrine disruptors will be for tomorrow’s world.
Thus, in trying to lessen the impact form one environmental catastrophe, BP may be unleashing another. Only time and research will tell.
Both of these stories from NPR delve into further details. The second link is an audio file to a terrific interview with Jon Hamilton, one of NPR’s science correspondents.
- NPR: EPA Pressures BP To Reduce Toxic Dispersant
- Interview with Jon Hamilton: Much About Dispersants Remain Unknown