When BP was tasked with cleaning the crude oil that spilled into the Gulf of Mexico by the millions of gallons in 2010, the company’s main weapon of choice was a dispersant called Corexit. The dispersant worked by breaking up oil slicks into tiny droplets, which could then be better washed away by the motion of the ocean’s waves, or sink to the ocean floor.
However, critics were concerned with the gratuitous use of Corexit because certain ingredients were known to be carcinogenic and to damage DNA. Critics also claimed that mixing Corexit with crude oil made a solution much more toxic than either component was by itself. Two different formulas were used, 9500 and 9527, and the latter was recognized as more dangerous.
BP asserted that “the toxicity of Corexit is about the same as dish soap,” in a statement against the dangers of using Corexit. While the Environmental Protection Agency had no data to support that Corexit significantly impacted wildlife, EPA studies did show that a dozen other dispersants were more effective in dispersing the specific kind of oil in the spill, while also being much less toxic in some cases.
When questioned about not choosing a less toxic dispersant formula, BP cited other companies’ use of Corexit as a sign of reliability. In total, 1.8 million gallons of Corexit were reportedly sprayed into the Gulf, although that figure has been disputed.