On Oil Spills and Making Mistakes

Elise Miller, MEd
CHE Director

In a recent interview regarding the BP oil disaster, Bill McKibben pointed out that even if all the oil had reached its intended destination—i.e., your corner gas station—it still would be an ecological and human health catastrophe. It is only because of the acute and immediate impacts of this so-called “spill” (which hardly captures nature of the devastation) that we actually stop, at least for a moment, and consider the magnitude of the ways we humans persistently undermine the health of our home planet and thus, ourselves.

A colleague once said to me: “I don’t mind making mistakes—that’s how we get better at what we do; but I don’t want to make the same mistakes—only new mistakes.” The current oil calamity in the Gulf is another profoundly sad example of our proclivity to repeatedly make myopic mistakes. Though this situation may be considered the single largest environmental disaster in US history, it is hardly an aberration—and it is hardly just an “environmental” disaster. Instead, the current oil spill only underscores how challenging it seems to be for us to make systemic changes for the benefit of all as well as why we should never forget that human health and environmental health are inherently inseparable.

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Toxicity in Oil Dispersants: First Data

Ted Schettler, MD, MPH
Science Director

Yesteday the US EPA publicly released their initial toxicity-testing data for eight different oil dispersants. Data include results for acute toxicity (LD50s) in two Gulf species, cytotoxicity, and interaction with androgen and estrogen receptors in in vitro assays. The agency has not yet examined the toxicity of dispersant-oil mixtures or effects on other species.

Excerpt: EPA Releases First Round of Toxicity Testing Data for Eight Oil Dispersants

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today released peer-reviewed results from the first round of its own independent toxicity testing on eight oil dispersants. EPA conducted testing to ensure that decisions about ongoing dispersant use in the Gulf of Mexico continue to be grounded in the best available science. Read the full announcement, including a link to the data.