As the New York Times puts it, BP is now "engaging in one of the largest and most aggressive experiments with chemical dispersants in the history of the country, and perhaps the world."
So far they've sprayed over 160,000 gallons of so-called "chemical dispersant" on the surface of the ocean above the Deepwater Horizon underwater oil leak. Furthermore, they've pumped an additional 6,000 gallons directly onto the leak itself. These chemicals - which is in themselves poisonous to marine life - are being judged as the lesser of two evils when compared to the oil.
First of all, the exact chemical makeup of these dispersants is unknown and is legally considered a "trade secret" by the corporations like Nalco that manufacture them. If BP is going to dump these toxic chemical mixtures into the ocean in a misguided effort to clean up the toxic chemicals they've already caused to contaminate the ocean, we believe the public has a right to know what's in them.
Secondly, the function of these dispersants is not to remove the oil, but to bind with it on the molecular level and break it down into super-tiny droplets. These droplets of oil then will be quickly assimilated into the ocean and "disappear" as they spread out. Just because you can no longer see the oil doesn't mean it isn't still there, and doesn't make it any less toxic.
"...one of British Petroleum’s most guarded secrets was revealed today: what kind of dispersant they are using in clean-up efforts. It turns out to be toxic Corexit 9500, as clean-up workers here had earlier told Bellona.
That Corexit 9500 was being used by BP to disperse the spill was revealed by the dispersant's manufacturer, Nalco Holding Company of Naperville, Illinois. Nalco's CEO, Erik Frywald, today expressed his company’s commitment to "helping the people and environment of the Gulf Coast recover as rapidly as possible."
Corexit 9500 is associated with headaches, vomiting and reproductive problems as sides effects at high doses to clean-up workers. 2-BE has also been documented to cause the breakdown of red blood cells, leading to blood in urine and feces, and can damage the kidneys, liver, spleen and bone marrow of humans – effects not included on the information sheet for workers."