Marine toxicologist combats Gulf ‘crime scene secrecy’ with independent study group

By Rady Ananda

Dr. Susan Shaw is a marine toxicologist who has spent the past two decades documenting the effects of hundreds of man-made chemicals in marine ecosystems. She studied the impacts from the Exxon Valdez spill and the oil dispersants used in the clean up. Her bio explains that “she dove in the Gulf of Mexico oil slick in May, 2010, to observe first-hand how oil and dispersants were impacting life in the water column.” The experience prompted her to call for an independent investigation, the Gulf EcoTox Project, to track the impacts of oil and chemical dispersants in the Gulf food web.

In June, she gave a Ted Talk describing the toxic effects of Corexit, as well as the even higher toxicity of oil and Corexit combined. “It’s like a delivery system,” says Shaw. “The [dispersed] oil enters the body more readily and it goes into the organs faster.”

The Gulf EcoTox Project is a group of experts independent of “the crime scene secrecy that’s going on in the Gulf .” Organizations that signed on (as of June) include Marine Environmental Research Institute, which she founded, and the Gulf Restoration Network, Wadsworth Center, Mission Blue, Columbia University’s Center for International Earth Science Information Network, Google Earth and the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.

On August 4, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released a statement claiming that “The vast majority of the oil from the BP oil spill has either evaporated or been burned, skimmed, recovered from the wellhead or dispersed using chemicals – much of which is in the process of being degraded.”

Along with many other scientists, Dr. Shaw condemned the overly optimistic report. She told The Guardian, “The blanket statement that the public understood is that most of the oil has disappeared. That is not true. About 50% of it is still in the water.”

NOAA and the FDA continue to ignore the presence and effects from oil dispersants, which has been found in Gulf seafood.

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