Oil Spill Exposures

The Environmental Health Center-Dallas is a specialized medical facility constructed to be five times less polluted than the average clinic which investigates the connection between environment and disease. We specialize in treating those who have been affected by environmental issues. Health issues of these persons may be related to exposure to pollens, pesticides, herbicides, foods and food additives or preservatives, molds, and mold and mycotoxin contamination in the home or workplace, and to chemical exposures at home or at work.

We have spoken to and treated those who appear to be experiencing health problems stemming from exposure to the Exxon Valdez oil spill and cleanup, the Gulf waters, and the oil spill and dispersants used to contain them.

Corexit is a product line of solvents used as dispersants for breaking up oil slicks such as the Gulf oil spill and the Exxon Valdez oil spill. Oil that would normally rise to the surface of the water is broken up by the dispersant and remains suspended in the water. Two Corexit dispersants, Corexit 9500 and Corexit 9527, have been used in large quantities to disperse the spill.

2-Butoxy Ethanol is an ingredient in Corexit 9527, a dispersant used in the spill. It is known to irritate the nose and throat, to cause nausea, vomiting, lightheadedness, and syncope. This chemical can be absorbed through skin contact, but inhalation of it is also a possibility. It is considered by the EPA to be an acute health hazard and can be harmful to red blood cells, the kidneys and liver, and can irritate the eyes and skin.

Corexit 9500 is known to contain sorbitan, butanedioic acid, and petroleum distillates. Butanedioic acid can irritate the eyes and throat. It is combustible and capable of causing burns on skin. In nutraceutical form as a food additive and dietary supplement, it is safe and approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

Corexit EC9500A consists mainly of petroleum distillates, propylene glycol, and dioctyl sodium sulfosuccinate. Petroleum distillates, if inhaled, can cause dizziness, headaches, drowsiness, and unconsciousness. If ingested, they can create coughing, diarrhea, sore throat and vomiting. NIOSH reports distillates are harmful to aquatic organisms.

Propylene glycol disperses the oil to subsurface depths. It is being investigated for any adverse effects on humans and aquatic life.

Dioctyl sodium sulfosuccinate can be an eye and skin irritant, and if ingested, can cause nausea and intestinal bloating. The Hazardous Substances Data Bank reports that it could have cytotoxic effects on the liver. This is under investigation.

Corexit 9527, considered by the EPA to be an acute health hazard, is stated by the manufacturer to be potentially harmful to red blood cells, the kidneys, and the liver and may irritate eyes and skin. The chemical 2-butoxyethanol, found in Corexit 9527, was identified as having caused lasting health effects in workers involved in the cleanup of the Exxon Valdez oil spill. According to the Alaska Community Action on Toxics, the use of Corexit during the Exxon Valdez oil spill caused people “respiratory, central nervous system, liver, kidney and blood disorders”.

If you are experiencing unexplained symptoms and live in close proximity to the Gulf, have been in contact with the waters of the Gulf or consumed aquatic life from affected areas, please understand that the illness could be related to chemical exposures. Although most information deals with direct contact with the dispersants, absorption through inhalation of vapors and water droplets is also possible. Persons most susceptible to illness related to exposure are the elderly, the young, and those with chronic disease processes. However, the frequency and length of exposure is important in your susceptibility to health issues related to these chemical substances.

Some of these compounds have been found in our patients who experienced contact with waters of the Gulf. They exhibited skin rashes, syncope, gastrointestinal problems, and immune dysregulation.

Thus we feel persons should avoid direct contact with some areas of the Gulf waters. We know that this contact can cause health problems. We also feel that care should be exercised in consuming aquatic life from specific areas of the Gulf. For those living in close proximity to the affected waters, an added protection against chemical absorption through inhalation could be the use of air purification in the home.

We are here to help determine the cause of unexplained illness and symptoms as it may relate to environmental exposures. The Center will determine if the illness is related to exposure to dispersants, help each person understand the problem, and then treat the symptoms while reducing the toxicity of each individual.