Thursday, April 20, 2017

Repost from 2012: Tulane's new studies punctuate ongoing research on women's health after spill

The following article first appeared on, June 20, 2012. Since its publication, Dr. Lichtveld has published papers, which can be read here.The story has been lightly edited.
Today, April 20, is the seventh anniversary of the tragic and massive BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Eleven men, rig workers, would lose their lives after an explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig owned by Transocean.
Yet, while the oil spill -- that wasn't shuttered for 87 days -- was horrific enough, the U.S. in concert with BP sprayed the Gulf with nearly 2 million gallons of dispersants, dispersants banned in the very country in which they are manufactured.
This reporter has followed the story from the beginning, including having spoken to numerous individuals who were in the zones most affected.
In the original posting of this story, I ran a picture by Mario Tama of Getty Images, dated April 18, 2011. The headline was "Lorrie Williams of Ocean Springs, MS developed severe health problems from the spill including lung polyps and liver damage. She believes this and her 42-lb weight loss as of Apr 2011 was caused by the dispersants."
While the media might focus on the recovery and how many brown pelicans were cleaned up, the deeper story is that oil is still at the bottom of the gulf and weighing the effects of oil-plus-dispersants is only beginning to show light. Scientists have proven, though, that together the mix is far more toxic than having just used oil alone.
In the course of my reporting over the years, I heard then Plaquemines President Billy Nungesser explain how the EPA told them one day there would be no more spraying, only to reverse course and come back again. I heard people I respect tell me again and again that I'd have to wait until papers were published, or that choosing Corexit was the best choice at the time. It kept the oil from coming up on shore. Yes, sort of like hitting you over the head so you faint keeps you from tripping and falling into the pool.
Following is my story from 2012, in which I interview a prominent scientist studying the effects of the BP oil spill on women's health:
Dr. Maureen Lichtveld, Tulane's chair of environmental policy, met with this reporter a couple of weeks ago in her Canal Street office to discuss recent grants to her department. Announced June 1, an overarching study of potential health impacts of the Deepwater Horizon disaster on coastal communities is being conducted thanks to $18.7 million from the BP spill settlement, as well as $3.7 million from the Baton Rouge Area Foundation's Fund for the Future of the Gulf, which will facilitate the evaluation of environmental health risks to seafood.
Since last July, though, Lichtveld has already been overseeing a vital three-year project paid for by a $6.5 million grant from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. This one explores the potential impacts of the spill on pregnant women and females of reproductive age. Their focus is women living in Jefferson, Lafourche, Orleans and Plaquemines parishes.
Lichtveld said:
"Pregnant women are always a population of concern when there are environmental exposures, as the developing fetus may be vulnerable to even small doses of contaminants...To our knowledge, this is also the first study to examine maternal stress and anxiety related to a major oil spill and the associated effects on birth outcomes, fetal health and family-planning behavior.”
Last year's grant created the Transdisciplinary Research Consortium for Gulf Resilience on Women’s Health (or GROWH) at Tulane. It is quantifying potential exposure levels among women to environmental contaminants via seafood consumption and air emissions; studying how disasters affect reproduction choices; and exploring how the relationship between the environment and socioeconomics affect women’s health and pregnancies.
"GROWH will collaborate with vulnerable populations along the Gulf Coast to conduct transdisciplinary, community-based participatory research," the National Institutes for Health said last year.
The consortium also partners with community groups to conduct its research, partnering with communities to design the studies, Lichtveld said. These partners include Mary Queen of Vietnam Community Development Corp., Bayou Interfaith Sharing Community Organizing and Women Infant and Children (WIC) clinics in the affected parishes. Explaining how the school is able to use funds from the first, $18.7 million grant, Lichtveld said, "the school is in a wonderfully neutral position." BP has no involvement in how Tulane manages the money since it was part of their $7.8 billion settlement on the Gulf spill, she said.
Lichtveld, who had the surreal experience of starting at Tulane shortly before Katrina hit, says she is "excited" by her work. This includes a fascinating element of the community study, which will allow her to reach high schools and train students to learn about environmental health. Then these newly environmental medicine-savvy kids will allow the community to "recruit very competively."
Someday, hopefully, these high schoolers will be the new medical professionals in the gulf, able to assess health problems resulting from spills.
### - An earlier version of this report listed the awards in the wrong order. This version is correct.
PHOTO: May 2, 2010 - U.S. Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Thad Allen, then National Incident Commander, and then EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, briefed President Barack Obama about the situation along the Gulf Coast following the BP oil spill at the Coast Guard Venice Center in Venice, La.. Official White House Photo by Pete Souza; Author: USEPA Environmental-Protection-Agency

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Repost from 2015: BP oil spill 5 years later: a young family struggles with oil, Corexit effects

The following article was published April 19, 2015 on It's since been very lightly edited.
For one young family living in Long Beach, Miss., the Macondo well blowout and BP oil spill that began April 20, 2010 is more than a footnote in our nation's tragic environmental history.
For Christina Tillman and husband Derek, now raising three boys just a few miles from where they lived in coastal Pass Christian, Mississippi, everyday life means continual trips to the doctor and worries about their children's and their own long-term health.
While no one in the family worked on the Vessels of Opportunity, like many residents there, the toxic effects following the Macondo well blowout were horrific.
At the time, the couple's only son, Gaven, was 2. Prior to the BP oil spill, his mom says he was a very healthy little boy. But afterwards, she says, "We went to the beach every now and then, [and later] chemicals found in his body showed a lot of the symptoms and signs [of the toxicity of the spill.]"
Indeed. She shared the boy's bloodwork results with this reporter, which show that on Dec. 15, 2010, ethylbenzene in the amount of 0.1" to 0.3" ppb was detected, placing him in the 95th percentile for volatile solvents.
It cost the couple about $450 for this test, one of a flurry of bills they'd incur over the years as they struggled to handle not only the physical but the financial and emotional tolls of post-spill life.
Christina says they left Pass Christian because it was evident that it was toxic to live there. Not only did she and her family - including mother-in-law Shirley Tillman, who's spoken out frequently to the press and shared pictures of dead turtles she found on the beach - feel this, but so did visitors, who'd ask "what that smell was."
"We could smell it – it was the day after the explosion; they hadn’t even reported anything about it on our local news station," she says, echoing a comment from Daisy Seal, who underwent 13 miscarriages and whose child has experienced kidney failure.
“I remember going outside and smelling something that smelled like burning oil. I had commented about it – and for about 30 seconds that night they mentioned something about this thing exploding," she says.
And the dangers didn't just issue from the petroleum products, but from the copious amounts of Corexit being air dropped along the Gulf.
Tillman is a medical professional who has worked in the operating room as a surgical technologist, meaning she hands instruments to the surgeon. Now she is an instructor at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College.
She says that after the spill, that autumn, they were seeing a marked number of patients in for respiratory distress. Then they saw an uptick in the number of surgical cancellations in the pediatrics unit where she worked in Mississippi.
"On our particular surgery days, when it all first came about, the children and elderly started to get sick, and we would probably see anywhere from 300 to 500 pediatric patients a day in Gulfport. This was late 2010, early 2011," she says.
She says she saw a "drastic drop" in the number of surgeries that could be performed due to cancellations. Where they would do about nine to ten surgeries on a surgical day, that number was cut basically in half. Sometimes on a half-day workday there weren't any surgeries, which was highly unusual.
“The drastic drop lasted a good six months. It started kind of decreasing gradually from I would say probably May, slowly started to decrease and there was a huge drop and it remained for a good halfway to the end of 2011," she says.
"But I will tell you we never made it all the way back up the chain when I left in December 2011 because I just remember when I first started working there it was fast paced ... we had a full case load and were trying to get 'em in and out."
Meanwhile, the Tillmans were dealing with their own health problems - Gaven's issues and then the health battles of the children who were to come: Maddox, now 3, and little Declan, 3 months. Big brother Gaven is now 6, going on 7.
Following is the edited version of the list of symptoms her family sent to this reporter:
Derek (husband/father):
"His symptoms started severely around November (2010) and lasted about three to four months. These symptoms were a lot like what you would experience with severe allergies, a cold, or flu," she says.
• Severe nasal congestion and sinus inflammation (rhinitis and sinusitis)
• Severe cough and chest congestion
• Sore throat and extreme redness
• Tonsilitis, bronchitis, and laryngitis
• Red, watery, burning eyes and irritation
• Nausea and vomiting
• Dizziness
• Severe body aches
• Sores and lesions in the mouth and throat
• Severe headaches
"None of his sympoms ever lead to infections, so he never really had a fever. Maybe once, when his symptoms were at their most extreme in November. Once they went away a few months later; he was better than the rest of us. Derek has asthma, his asthmatic symptoms were very severe during this period," says Christina.
Christina (wife/mother):
"Severe symptoms started around October to November and lasted for almost a year off and on," she says. "I was sick for a good six months ongoing, after that it would go away and return. A lot of the symptoms [were] the same as Derek's, but lasted longer."
• Severe nasal congestion and sinus inflammation (rhinitis and sinusitis)
• Severe cough and chest congestion
• Sore throat and extreme redness
• Tonsilitis, bronchitis, and laryngitis
• Red, watery, burning eyes and irritation; "blood vessels would burst in my eyes and it would hurt"
• Nausea and vomiting
• Dizziness
• Severe body aches
• Sores and lesions in the mouth and throat
• Rashes that hurt and "looked like the map of the US all over the body"
• Fever
• Severe headaches and migraines
"The sinus congestion was unlike anything I had or have ever experienced. Your head would feel like it was literally going to explode from the pressure built up inside it. Your eyes would even feel like they were about to pop out of your head. It was horrible," she shares.
Gaven (eldest boy):
"This poor baby got the worst of everything. I'm going to list what I can remember of all his problems here, but I'm also going to attach what I had written up about his experience in case I miss anything [which was a very long list of symptoms.]," she says. "There was so much in his case. I was looking at his medical records and his symptoms started mildly in July, became more moderate in September, and were severe starting in September. His symptoms were ongoing for a year and a half, and lasted just over two years all together..."
• Severe nasal congestion and sinus inflammation (rhinitis and sinusitis)
• Severe cough and chest congestion
• Sore throat and extreme redness
• Tonsilitis, bronchitis, and laryngitis
• Red, watery, burning eyes and irritation; blood vessels would burst in his eyes and it would hurt
• Nausea and vomiting
• Dizziness
• Severe body aches
• Sores and lesions in the mouth and throat
• Several different types of rashes all over the body; sometimes splotchy, sometimes patchy, etc. His would even turn into these little lesions as well. One time they even thought he might have the measles because the rash he had seemed like the one associated with it.
• Fever (sometimes as high as 104 and 104.5)
• Severe headaches
• Ear infections
• Leukocytosis
• Sleep apnea
Maddox (middle boy):
"Around May of 2013 he started to experience some very mild symptoms associated with allergies. The problem was, and what brought major concern with Dr. Cupp [the family pediatrician], was the fact that they were a little more ongoing than she liked and she noticed that all of his lymph nodes were very inflamed. They did some blood tests and his white blood cell count was extremely high. She was concerned that he might have cancer, leukemia particularly," Christina says.
After further testing it was discovered that he did not and she was never able to pinpoint what was the cause of any of it, says Christina. In September of 2014, the same thing happened and he "had a mass that formed on his leg that was removed by surgery. They thought it was an infection, like staph, but it wasn't. That's when they became concerned with cancer once more and he was tested for leukemia again and also lymphoma. He has been doing fine since November of 2014 and she will test him again later this year just in case," Christina says.
Declan (the baby):
"A few days after Declan was born, he started having trouble feeding and breathing," Christina says. "Of course this was very concerning for us, so I approached his pediatrician with some videos of what was happening. In turn, his pediatrician became concerned as well. She sent him to a specialist at Ochsner's who had to do an endoscopy on him (while I had to hold him in my lap). That day, at two weeks of age, Declan was diagnosed with a few different disorders: one is called laryngotracheomalacia, which affects his feeding and his breathing."
She says his epiglottis did not form correctly; "instead of being like the hard cartilage it should be, it's very soft and flappy."
It also doesn't fully cover as it should, which can cause him to aspirate because when feeds he can take the fluid into his lungs..."
Eldest son had VOC in blood
Although Christina and her husband, a former minor league ball player who works as a plumber, also experienced problems, like most parents the focus was on the kids. In 2010, that child was Gaven, and with his severe symptoms and with the advice of toxicologist Rikki Ott, the boy was taken in for a blood test.
Derek's mom, Shirley Tillman, has been an activist following the spill, sharing pictures of dead, washed-up turtles that ended up published in international media. Ott has been fighting the use of dispersants such as Corexit, and is an Exxon Valdez spill survivor.
Sadly, the results of Gaven's blood test showed the presence of ethylbenzene when samples were taken Dec. 15, 2010. Ethylbenzene, according to the Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry, has developmental effects - meaning it can affect organs that are developing, as well as the nervous system.
It is a "colorless, flammable liquid that smells like gasoline. It is found in natural products such as coal tar and petroleum and is also found in manufactured products such as inks, insecticides, and paints..."
Going forward: it's not 'all better'
Christina and Derek have obviously been blessed with the births of not just one or two, but three boys. Their ability to maneuver the battery of medical tests and procedures, driving their boys to doctors far and near, some of whom thought Christina was crazy for drawing a link to the spill, is nothing short of remarkable.
Christina has thought all along that Corexit is dangerous, but mentioning this to some people resulted in them looking at her "like I'd seen a UFO."
Asked to comment on Corexit's effects in particular, the EPA did not get back to this reporter by press time. The million-dollar-question, of course, is why was the Gulf of Mexico a huge litmus test for a toxic chemical banned in the very country in which BP operates?
Asked to comment on Corexit's effects on the Gulf, a BP spokesman shared the following written statement from the company:
"BP’s use of dispersants during the Deepwater Horizon response was coordinated with, and approved by, US federal agencies, including the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the US Coast Guard. Throughout the response, BP worked closely with US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the US National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and other US government agencies to take extraordinary measures to safeguard the health and safety of responders.
Workers were provided safety training and appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE), and were monitored by federal agencies and BP to measure potential exposure levels and help ensure compliance with established safety procedures. Workers applying dispersants received training on work procedures and PPE usage designed to minimize exposures, and were provided respirators and other PPE.
Due to the extensive controls in place, there was little potential for worker or public exposure to dispersants. More than 30,000 air monitoring samples were collected by the Coast Guard, OSHA, NIOSH, and BP as part of a comprehensive air monitoring program to evaluate the potential for human exposure to dispersant and oil compounds. The results showed that response worker and public exposures to dispersants were well below levels that could pose a health or safety concern.
Extensive monitoring conducted by federal agencies and BP show that response workers and the public were not exposed to dispersant compounds at levels that would pose a health risk. Please see."
For families such as the Tillmans, who are still struggling with not only health effects but medical bills and a horrific emotional toll, the dispersants did not make it "all better." They have a medical claim filed and are hoping to receive some measure of justice; yet meanwhile, who will pay for even four more sets of blood tests that should be done for the rest of her family?
Everyday challenges for families in the Gulf include finding the time to take kids for tests of health effects these families just are not prepared to deal with. Other families might not even have health insurance, or both parents work. Who's going to take the kids in? A parent could lose his income if he spent 24/7 dealing with such matters.
While the oil spill was awful, the Corexit, made it worse. It made these children's health symptoms much, much worse. This is the truth, and while the truth is slow to come out sometimes, it is starting to emerge. Just look up "Corexit: rashes" and see what comes up on a Google search.
And why is it that the EPA is now seeking public comment to make amendments to how it uses dispersants following oil spills? Readers, you have til Apr. 22 to comment.
In a Twitter chat moderated by the Ocean Conservancy on Friday, numerous tweeters pointed out how toxic the dispersants were and are.
When this reporter tweeted, "#OurGulf @OurOcean Dr @SylviaEarle spoke out clearly against use of #Dispersants after 2010 spill started. What's yer position on #Corexit?," none other than Dr. Samantha Joye, the noted Univ. of Ga. biogeochemist, responded:
Mandy Joye ‏@SeepExplorer Apr 17 @WriterWeegs @OurOcean @SylviaEarle #OurGulf - no evidence that dispersants made things better other than keeping oil off shore."
Numerous scientific papers have been written about the use of dispersants since the spill, and Joye said in a following tweet that we can expect a paper from her team too.
In response to someone commenting on her tweet, that the news about Corexit still seemed "opaque," Joye wrote: "... papers coming out soon. Some questions answered ... Many more raised." Indeed, many more questions have been raised about the most horrific oil spill in US history, one that killed 11 good men on the rig April 20, 2010, and has since killed thosuands of dolphins, turtles, fish, brown pelicans, herons and much more.
“I got to where I quit running on the beach," Christina Tillman says of those days following the BP oil spill and dispersant airdrops. "In three months I saw two dead dolphins. I said that’s it – I am sick of seeing all the dead animals. I exercise, I run, and I used to go [walking on the beach]," she says, choking back tears.
"I remember seeing tons and tons of dead fish – in Pass Christian and in Long Beach – it was everywhere. Usually you will see a dead fish, but this was lots, dozens. It was hundreds of fish. But it was when I started to see the bigger mammals, like dolphins [that I just 'lost it']," she says.
"One day I thought it was a big piece of trash and it was a dolphin, and you have to call the marine people to come," she says.
Photos: Used with permission from Christina Tillman. Top: Maddox in the hospital, Bottom: Gaven then 6, Maddox then 3, Declan then 3 months. The boys are now 8, 5, and 2. Top photo by Heather Rafferty, Ella J. Reese Photography An earlier version of this story referred to Dr. Sylvia Earle, not Dr. Samantha Joye, as the noted UGA biogeochemist. It has been corrected.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Repost from 2011: UC Davis Environmental Toxicology Professor Breaks Down Why Dispersants Were Used

The following article originally was published on, August 10, 2011, a year and about a month after the Macondo well was capped. Since its publication, much research has been done on the effects of Corexit and petroleum in the Gulf, many of which can be accessed here.
Ron Tjeerdema, professor and chair of the UC Davis Department of Environmental Toxicology, has been a member of the scientific advisory panel to NOAA and BP on dispersant use in the Gulf of Mexico. Now he is a member of the US EPA Scientific Advisory Board's Oil Spill Strategy Review Panel, which is evaluating the agency's "Draft Oil Spill Research Strategy" to guide future research on spills.
Dr. Tjeerdema spoke to this reporter Friday about dispersant use in the Gulf, the chemistry of Corexit, and why sometimes hard choices have to be made. Following is an edited transcript of that conversation.
The Gulf community has been sharply critical of the way dispersants were applied after the oil spill. Do you concur that there is cause for concern? Why or why not?
I don’t think there's cause for concern. The problem with the Gulf spill was that it very quickly, because of the sheer size of the spill, the amount of oil coming out of the ground, it very quickly outgrew any other response capability in the Gulf. Because initially they did some booming….then burning and skimming. They did not have the resources to deal with it, so very early on it became an issue [of] there was only one thing left to do – let the oil come out unabated till they could eventually cap or they disperse. Unfortunately, that was the choice.
I view it as a shortcoming of the federal government and the oil industry. They were not prepared for this size of a blowout so it very quickly overwhelmed them. And so the choices were limited. I suspect that had they not dispersed, you’d be asking why they didn’t disperse. We will never know for sure [if this was the best choice because]…there wasn’t another well blowout [of this magnitude] that we could use as a comparison.
What is the EPA’s Draft Oil Spill Research Strategy? What have you evaluated so far?
It's not public information at this point. It’s known there is a scientific advisory panel. The EPA has a draft of the research they want to conduct in the future so they have asked us to take a look and give comments as to whether that’s a good direction to go in the future.
As it pertains to oil spills.
Yes. Without saying specifically what will be in it - it's [going to be] guidance for oil spill research in the future.
Do you have a quantity for me of how much dispersant was applied in the Gulf and are we only talking about Corexit or something more?
The best guest is 2 million gallons were applied to the Deepwater Horizon. Which is about 1 percent of the oil that came out. That is a 1 to 100 ratio, which is lower than would be applied [in some other situations]. Corexit is the main name of the dispersant used, but it included many other components. *
What are the health effects of this much dispersant? How does it affect people who say, travel up and down the shore every day for weeks on end?
Health effects depend upon amounts you are exposed to, and the more you are exposed to anything the more health effects you are likely to have. The vast majority of dispersants were applied at the well head 40 plus miles from the shore. People on the beach are not likely to have health effects. Dispersants are more likely to stay offshore in these clouds below the surface.
Explain what you mean by that.
What a dispersant does – it breaks oil into droplets. When you apply a dispersant to get oil off the surface of the water, if you apply a dispersant to that oil, instead of having this floating slick it breaks it up into a cloud of droplets 30 meters (98 feet) below the surface of the water, and droplets continually break up and dilute dispersants from there.
The idea is not only have you gotten the oil off the surface, you make more surface area for bacteria to digest the oil.
Yes. ###
UPDATE: 4-15-2017: As of today, the EPA claims that only 200 gallons of dispersant were used following the capping of the well. (Note, an earlier version of this blog today mistakenly said "the spill" rather than "the well". The original posting date was also incorrectly stated as 2010 instead of 2011, and that eight different dispersants were used. Eight dispersants were tested; Corexit was used. The writer regrets the errors.) Further, they say they are constantly monitoring the site, and testing of Corexit's effects has continued. For more information:
* Prof. Tjeerdeema said the components in Corexit were a secret for a long time, not for any dubious reason but solely to protect against patent infringement from competitors. He pointed out that later the information became available on the EPA web site. The chemicals that make up the Corexit and the fact that the federal government kept this secret is a topic of concern and debate. Two main types were used: COREXIT 9500 and COREXIT 9527, which are essentially interchangeable. (The original story listed the chemicals used in Corexit; those chemicals can be accessed on EPA's website:
PHOTO: Wikimedia Commons Images.

Friday, April 14, 2017

BP oil spill 7-year anniversary: A look at Corexit's deadly effects on the Gulf of Mexico

Throughout the recovery of the Gulf of Mexico, scientists have been generally slow to pinpoint the specific blight dispersants have had on the toxicity in the water column. Yet, from the very beginning almost, scientists were telling reporters to wait til their papers were published, til others' papers were published.
A purported 1.84 million U.S. gallons of the dispersant called Corexit were used in the Gulf, much of it airdropped in areas like Barataria Bay, Louisiana, and around parts of Mississippi and Alabama most impacted by the spill that began April 20, 2010. The Macondo well was finally sealed July 15 of that year.
Well, several papers explaining the toxicity of Corexit, in particular, have been published, and they draw direct links to how its use is far more deadly than oil alone. For example, in July, 2014, in a study called "Dispersant, UV Radiation Increase Oil Spill Impacts on Zooplankton but Food Web Interactions may Reduce Them", investigators from the University of Texas Marine Science Institute, including students from California and China, assessed impacts of crude oil, dispersant, and natural phenomena on zooplankton from the Gulf.
Zooplankton is a form of plankton popular in the Gulf of Mexico, renowned for the arrow worm or chaetognath. This type of zooplankton essentially feeds on its own kind; and there are 24 types in the Gulf. Zooplankton, like other plankton, is a vital food source for fish in the Gulf and in the sea generally.
So when researchers found that oil plus dispersants were very toxic to zooplankton, it was a big deal. As they said themselves, zooplankton are vulnerable to pollutants - and pollutants were found aplenty in the Gulf following the spill. First oil, then Corexit.
Researchers wrote that "at the oil-dispersant ratio commonly used to treat spills, dispersant and dispersant-treated oil were over twice as toxic as crude oil alone and that UVB radiation further increased crude oil toxicity to zooplankton."
Investigators also found "bioaccumulation of selected polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in zooplankton; however, the presence of marine protozoans reduced PAH bioaccumulation in copepods and may mitigate harmful impacts and subsequent transfer to the food chain."
Further, researchers said: "Zooplankton also play a role in influencing the fate of toxins by absorbing, transforming, and eliminating contaminates. These complex interactions may potentially impact the larger marine environment. For this study, researchers focused on natural mesozooplankton assemblages and on the copepod Acartia tonsa, a widespread and dominant planktonic species in the Gulf of Mexico. The team used Light Louisiana sweet crude oil, considered to have similar chemical composition and toxicity to Deepwater Horizon oil, and Corexit 9500A in experiments to better understand the interactions between these pollutants and zooplankton."
Zooplankton samples were collected from surface waters in the northern Gulf and in the Aransas Ship Channel, at Port Aransas, Texas.” Presumably, zooplankton studied off the Texas coast would have been used as a point of comparison to the plankton in waters closer to the spill, such as around Louisiana and the northern gulf.
Researchers say the impacts from oil spills on planktonic communities “depends on many physical, chemical and biological factors,” and effects would “vary depending on the circumstances of each spill.” They want “further experiments that mimic the natural environment” to accurately evaluate the toxic effects and PAH bioaccumulation in zooplankton, because their findings suggest that zooplankton are “highly sensitive” to Corexit 9500A.
The study’s authors were Rodrigo Almeda, Zoe Wambaugh, Zucheng Wang, Cammie Hyatt, Zhanfei Liu, and Edward J. Buskey (PLOS ONE, 2013 8(6): e67212).
This research was made possible in part by a grant from theGulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI), a program established through a $500 million financial commitment from BP. For more information, visit
PHOTO: Sign protesting use of toxic "Corexit" chemical dispersant in the BP Gulf of Mexico oil disaster, at the Bastille Day Tumble, French Quarter, New Orleans; Infrogmation of New Orleans - by Infrogmation of New Orleans, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons Images.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

BP oil spill 7-year anniversary: National Wildlife Federation discusses funding priorities for Gulf

Where were you April 20, 2010? If you are like most Americans, you flipped the dial (we watched TV then) and saw a fire in the Gulf of Mexico. It may not have seemed like much at the time. Like all tragedies, it's often impossible to fully stomach the weight of such incidents until much later. And the BP oil spill was no different.
It took until July 15 that year to seal the Macondo well, the oil gushing to the tune of millions of gallons following the fire on the Deepwater Horizon rig owned by Transocean. In the months that followed, thousands of brown pelicans, Kemp's ridley sea turtles, herons, and fish perished. Even dolphins' offspring died, many of them washing up as premies on the beaches of Louisiana's coasts.
Today, Collin O’Mara, president and CEO, National Wildlife Federation; along with Ryan Sikes, Gulf of Mexico staff scientist for NWF; and David Muth, NWF's Gulf program director, weighed in on funding priorities for the Gulf. Remarkably, it's only this month they said that funds have actually started flowing from the massive BP payout to affected Gulf interests.
On its website, the NWF states, "On April 4, 2016, the Department of Justice and the five Gulf states finalized a global settlement with BP for $20.8 billion dollars, to be paid out over the next 15 years."
Importantly, though, NWF calculates that about $16 billion will be going to ecological restoration. The 2012 Restore Act dictates that funds from the Clean Water Act go to Gulf states.
Further, each Gulf state - affected in varying degrees by the catastrophe - will receive a portion of BP dollars each year through 2031. Specifically, $4.4 billion will go to the Gulf region via the RESTORE Act to be used for ecosystem and economic restoration and recovery. Another $8.8 billion is available under the Oil Pollution Act’s Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) process to restore areas where wildlife were damaged by the spill and where recreational areas were affected.
The breakdown is as follows:
- Texas will get $37 million annually
- Louisiana will receive $372 million annually
- Mississippi will get $50 million annually
- Alabama will receive $51 million annually
- Florida will get $74 million annually
NWF has created a handy, interactive map that delineates where dollars are going. Divided by states, one can key in whatever criteria interests them - i.e. click on Louisiana, then punch the Port Fourchon emblem - and information about how funds are being used pops up.
This reporter asked whether scientific studies of Corexit had been showing evidence of damage, and if lessons had been learned from the Gulf spill that would prohibit its use going forward.
Sikes took the questions, starting with the first part. He said a lot of research has been and is being done, for example with the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (or GOMRI). "They're in their seventh year of research looking at impacts of Corexit," he said. "We know it amplifies toxicity," he said in part. As for whether they'd learned their lessons, he said he wasn't at liberty to say.
NWF said that while so far, only a quarter of the $16 billion has been "committed to projects across the Gulf," the process is, apparently complicated and includes funds from criminal fines resulting from a $2.54 billion 2013 Justice Department settlement.
While the accounting of the spill is fairly complex and difficult for many to understand, seeing real results happen will be both welcome and obvious as they occur. For example, land loss in Louisiana is occurring at a frightening clip, and losing precious wetlands means losing habitat and nutrients — So if projects such as Timbalier Islands Barrier Island Restoration are successful, they will restore dune and beach habitat as well as reduce storm surge impacts, among other plusses. Likewise, the Isles Derniers Barrier Island Restoration project will restore those islands, offering beach, dune, and back barrier marsh habitat to protect them from storm surge impacts.
With the impact of climate change, glaciers are melting and seas are rising: New Orleans along with Miami and New York are extremely vulnerable to sea rise. The BP funds to help coastal restoration can help alleviate a plague that still challenges a recovering gulf, including oil still on the sea floor.
To see scientific studies detailing the effects of the dispersant Corexit on the Gulf of Mexico following the spill, click here.
For more information on how funds have been allocated in the Gulf, click here.
PHOTO: Wikimedia Commons Images. "Health, safety and environment (HSE) workers contracted by BP clean up oil on a beach in Port Fourchon, La., May 23, 2010. Hundreds of contracted HSE workers are cleaning up oil from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, which began washing up onto area beaches a month after the drilling unit exploded." Source:; Author: PO3 Patrick Kelley

Monday, April 10, 2017

(Repost from 2015) BP oil spill 5 years later: one brave young woman and baby battle for health

The following article originally ran on, March 23, 2015.
Daisy Seal, a bright and brave young wife and mother from Gulfport, Mississippi, is unusually kind and even-keeled when discussing a horrific blight that would anger many to outbursts.
For, as a resident of this beachside community, she never thought she'd be right in the heart of the nation's worst environmental disaster. She was just taking her usual walks back in late April of 2010 when news came that there had been a spill further up the gulf.
Anyone who walks these beaches knows that it's normal to have a little black stickiness on one's feet. Small tar balls are ubiquitous. But what she found suddenly terrified her.
"It was bad. That stuff was all over the sand. There was more oily stuff than there was sand," Seal told this reporter today, Mar. 23. At the time, her son was seven and life was good. Her fertility to date had been solid: no miscarriages or any health effects to speak of.
All of that was about to change.
After the spill, Seal suffered 13 miscarriages. When her daughter Bella was finally born almost 14 months ago - a blessing beyond compare - she was born with severe health problems.
"I don't want people to feel sorry for her," the mother says simply, and indeed Bella is a bright and beautiful little girl. But she is underweight, her kidneys "haven't worked since birth", Seal says. She has end-stage renal failure and rickets.
It's actually too much for a journalist to even listen to. How can a mother manage?
"She has problems with calcium being too high and it causes her bones to be brittle and for them to twist and not grow properly and her brain not to have a chance to grow like it is supposed to," says Seal. "And her parathyroid hormones might have to be removed because they can't get hormones down."
Asked if she was being compensated by BP for this, she said her claim had been denied, that she was not able to sufficiently show the link, cause and effect. This despite the images showing the rashes she had, the "burn holes" in her arms and legs.
Of her post-oil spill fertility battle, she says, "I stayed sick all the time and I'd get pregnant and then lose the baby and they never could come up with a definitive reason why I kept having miscarriages. Young Bella, who only weighs 11 pounds at 14 months, is on Medicare because she is classified as disabled.
But her parents have been denied Medicaid despite their extremely low income. Her husband was a seafood cook but not any longer.
The family does not want sympathy, but they deserve help and they deserve care for themselves and their children. Presently, the little girl has to travel to New Orleans for her care. Mississippi doesn't even offer what they need, Seal says. Further, the young boy has asthma and needs help, too. Asked if she'd ever had a miscarriage before conceiving her son, she says no. Her health was good.
All this suffering traced back to that Apr. 2010 disaster in the Gulf. Oh yes, Gulfport, Miss. is considered Zone A. It's more in the line of fire than New Orleans is.
Reflecting back to that day five years ago, she relays that she was "just down there because it was something I did and got it all over my feet."
Asked what "it" is she explains it could have been both oil and Corexit. It was "one or two or both - I had to use gasoline to get it off. It was big balls..." She says, "We all just went down there to check it out and see what was going on because they were talking about it on the news. There were people out there, boogie boarding and stuff, and I think it was probably a few days later they saw cops stopped letting people go down there and pretty much closed the beach off."
Asked how many days she was walking there before realizing the danger, she says about three days, about how long it took the police to shut the beach down. Because of her lack of insurance, she only has documentation for two of the miscarriages, which she went to the hospital for. What she does have, though, is proof of the spill's effects.
A doctor tested her blood a few years ago.
"My blood was full of those cancer causing chemicals, VOCs," she says. She went with her mom to have the test because she kept having health issues.
Later this week, with the seventh anniversary coming soon, GOME will post another blog updating readers on Bella's health.
If you'd like to contribute to Bella's health fund, visit:
PHOTOS: L: beautiful little Bella; R: Bella and her mommy, Daisy. Bella was underweight at birth and has suffered a number of health issues.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Restore Council approves BP spill Louisiana State expenditure plan for $811.9M

The Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council Chair, U.S. Department of Agriculture, has approved the Louisiana State Expenditure Plan. The Council chair has found the Louisiana SEP is complete and meets all requirements contained in the RESTORE Act, the Department of the Treasury’s implementing regulations, and the Council’s SEP Guidelines, according to a press release issued today.
The USDA provided Louisiana with a letter of approval, reiterating the Council’s commitment to ensuring an efficient and effective process for funding the activities in Louisiana. More information regarding the projects funded with the BP oil spill award dollars was covered in today's press release, which states in part:
"Louisiana’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) announces that the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council (RESTORE Council) and the U.S. Department of Treasury (Treasury) have both accepted the CPRA’s First Amended Multiyear Implementation and State Expenditure Plan (RESTORE Plan) under the Resources and Ecosystems Sustainability, Tourist Opportunities and Revived Economies of the Gulf Coast States Act of 2012 (RESTORE Act). This plan describes how the state intends to spend its total allocation of $811.9 million over 15 years from both the Spill Impact Component and the Direct Component of the Gulf Coast Restoration Trust Fund (RESTORE Trust Fund). With the plan officially accepted by both agencies, CPRA can now apply for grants to begin implementing the important projects and programs described in the plan."
In September 2015, Louisiana was the first state to have a plan for spending then-available Direct Component funds from the Transocean Deepwater settlement, $39 million. The Bayou State is now the first to have a plan accepted by both Treasury and the RESTORE Council for the expenditure of all of its Direct Component and Spill Impact Component funds from the Transocean, Anadarko Petroleum Corporation and BP Exploration & Production Inc. settlements over 15 years. The activities include:
- the Calcasieu Salinity Control Measures project ($260.4 million) under the Direct Component
- The Houma Navigation Canal Lock Complex ($366 million), Adaptive Management ($60.9 million), the CPRA-Parish Matching Opportunities Program (up to $100 million), and contingency funds (approximately $24.6 million) under the Spill Impact Component.
According to the press release, the Calcasieu Salinity Control Measures project is southwest Louisiana's largest ecosystem restoration project. "Additionally, the Adaptive Management program will allow us to identify sustainable implementation solutions in a dynamic ecosystem while the Parish Matching program will enable us to partner with coastal parishes to advance comprehensive integrated coastal protection projects of particular local concern”, said Michael Ellis, Executive Director of the CPRA.
The RESTORE Act allocates 80 percent of all Clean Water Act penalties paid by those responsible for the 2010 BP oil spill to the RESTORE Trust Fund for the restoration and protection of the Gulf Coast region. The Act contains five funding components, one of which directs 35 percent of funds deposited into the trust fund to each of the five Gulf Coast states in equal shares for ecological and economic restoration (the “Direct Component”), and one of which directs 30 percent of the funds deposited in the trust fund to each of the five Gulf Coast states to address the ecological and economic impacts from the oil spill based on a formula established by the Council.
For more information, please visit: The Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, "The State of Louisiana's First Amended RESTORE Plan".
Photo: courtesy of Wikimedia Commons Images, then EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson surveying the oil in the Gulf of Mexico at Grand Isle, La., June 11, 2010, EPA photo.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

(Repost from 2010) Deep sea damage to coral reefs found in the Gulf

This month marks the seven-year anniversary of the Gulf of Mexico BP oil spill. The following article originally ran on, Nov. 7, 2010. It has been lightly edited.
On Nov. 4, 2010 the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) returned from an expedition in the Gulf of Mexico that determined corals have been affected by oil that gushed from the Macondo well.
On its web site, NOAA sites the mission of federal and academic scientists as having observed "damage to deep-sea corals" on the research cruise.
Charles Fisher, Ph.D., professor of biology at Penn State and chief scientist on the expedition, described some of the soft coral observed in an area measuring 15 to 40 meters "as covered by what appeared to be a brown substance. Ninety percent of 40 large corals were heavily affected and showed dead and dying parts and discoloration," according to a NOAA statement.
Another site 400 meters away had a colony of stony coral similarly affected and partially covered with a similar brown substance.
The mission in the Gulf comes to a head after numerous weeks that found the scientists exploring deep-sea coral habitats in the Gulf.
Nov. 4 marked the conclusion of this year’s cruise, the fourth of a multiyear collaboration sponsored by NOAA’s Office of Ocean Exploration and Research and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE).
Operating from the NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown and using a variety of tools including the National Deep Submergence Facility’s Jason II remotely-operated vehicle (ROV), researchers foraged 1,400 meters deep (4,600 feet) and about seven miles southwest of the Macondo wellhead when they observed "dead and dying corals with sloughing tissue and discoloration," according to the NOAA statement.
The New York Times reported the story in its Sunday edition, drawing increasing focus on the extant issue that has brewed in scientists' minds for over 200 days: just how have marine life been impacted in the deep-sea waters of the Gulf?
With more analyses of the coral samples, definitive conclusions should soon be drawn.
Photos: Via Wikimedia Commons Images. Top - Deepwater Horizon oil spill at Chandeleur Islands LA (separate from the area studied by Dr. Charles Fisher), May 2010, by Jeffrey Warren, Grass Roots Mapping project.Creative Commons Attribution:; Bottom - Coral colony in the Gulf of Mexico affected by the 2010 oil spill, , image courtesy of Lophelia II 2010 Expedition, NOAA-OER/BOEMRE.
To read a recent paper on how the corals of the Gulf were affected by the BP oil spill, see: Fisher, C.R., P.A. Montagna, and T.T. Sutton. 2016. How did the Deepwater Horizon oil spill impact deep-sea ecosystems? Oceanography 29(3):182–195,