Gulf Dispersants Called Trade Secret

May 5, 2010

Want to know what those government airplanes are spraying over the troubled Gulf of Mexico? Don't ask. Only oil companies are allowed to know. The exact ingredients in the "dispersants" aimed at the spreading BP oil spill are claimed as "trade secrets," even though they may endanger the health of Gulf residents and ecosystems.

The identity of many of the chemicals being sprayed from planes and pumped into the oil rising from a 5,000-foot-deep wellhead are generally known. For example, they include detergents. But others included in the mix are rated toxic. There is no way for the public to know about the dispersants' safety because the public is not allowed to know what is in the dispersants.

Abrahm Lustgarten of ProPublica reported on the dispersants in an April 30 story: "The exact makeup of the dispersants is kept secret under competitive trade laws, but a worker safety sheet for one product, called Corexit, says it includes 2-butoxyethanol, a compound associated with headaches, vomiting and reproductive problems at high doses."

Lustgarten's piece cited research stating that, in high enough concentrations and exposures, some dispersant ingredients can harm human health and marine life.