Green dispersants wanted

I’ve been monitoring the news on chemical dispersants being used on the Gulf oil spill and my colleague in ICIS, Judith Taylor, wrote an excellent article about surfactants* as one of the active chemicals in dispersants.

Many surfactants these days use natural fats/oils-based raw materials and ICIS Pricing recently reported* a slight tightness in the fatty acid market:

US tall oil fatty acid supply tightens on BP oil spill demand

Oleic fatty acids, used in dispersants, tighten on BP oil spill

However, the dispersants themselves are causing environmental advocates to cry foul claiming it could do more harm than good because of unknown long-term effects. Nalco’s Corexit 9500 and Corexit 9527 are particularly the two major dispersants that have been used on the spill.

According to a recent analyst report from Jefferies & Company, Nalco was able to make around $40m in dispersant sales related to the cleanup of the US Gulf oil spill reflecting sales of roughly 840,000 gal of Corexit.

Thus far Corexit is the only dispersant used at the spill although the Federal government has mandated a significant ramped down of its use because of the toxicity concerns. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently listed on their website the chemical components of the Corexit dispersants which include: 2-Propanol, 1,2-Propandiol, at least one ethanol derivative (which is in only COREXIT 9500), at least one butane derivative, several sorbitol derivatives called sorbitans and several petroleum distillates.

The group Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families coalition noted that very few data are available on the Corexit dispersants and that the EPA only require two short-term tests of acute toxicity to fish and shrimp for a dispersant to gain approval for use in any quantity.

“Only limited short-term data are available on individual ingredients as well, with virtually no data on toxicity to surface- or bottom-dwelling organisms, land animals and plants, or birds.”

The Center for Biological Diversity is even planning to sue the EPA for allowing BP to pump nearly 1 million gallons of dispersants into the gulf without ensuring that the chemicals will not harm endangered species and their habitats.


“Corexit 9500 and Corexit 9527, have been banned by the United Kingdom due to their adverse effects on the marine environment,” the group said in a statement.

“BP has applied dispersants that are known to be toxic to the marine environment in a wholly unprecedented, unanalyzed, and arguably unauthorized manner yet the EPA has continued to allow the use of enormous amounts of Corexit and other dispersants on the surface and deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico without ensuring that this massive ecological experiment will not jeopardize protected species or adversely affect their critical habitat.”

The group requests that the agency, along with the U.S. Coast Guard, immediately study the effects of dispersants on species such as sea turtles, sperm whales, piping plovers and corals and incorporate this knowledge into oil-spill response efforts.

The EPA said it has been working closely with the U.S. Coast Guard and NOAA to ensure an aggressive dispersant monitoring plan is implemented by BP and that data are regularly and rigorously reviewed.

As of June 13, the EPA claimed that their toxicity data for the dispersants used does not indicate any significant effects on aquatic life and that, so far, the dispersant is effective.

The EPA also listed on its website all dispersants that have been authorized for use on their National Contingency Plan (NCP) Product Schedule, the authorized list of dispersants. The agency said it requires toxicology tests and reports for all dispersants that are approved on this list.

Other dispersant producers to name a few include BP, Croda, Dasic International, INEOS Chemical, Shell, Taiho, Total, and U.S. Polychemical, according to Jefferies.

Several press release about more environment-friendly dispersants have came out because of this issue. Here are some of them:

Tampa-Based Thermablok, Inc. May Have the Answer to Oil Spill Clean-up Using Aerogel

Low-tox dispersant shows promise in oil-spill remediation

Green Earth Technologies Has a New Ultimate Biodegradable Solution for the Gulf Oil

[*ICIS stories are subscription only]

One Response to Green dispersants wanted

  1. Mike Fletcher 3 May, 2011 at 7:31 am #

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