Corexit® oil residue accelerates the absorption of toxins into the skin. The results aren't visible under normal light (left), but the contamination into the skin appears as fluorescent spots under UV light (right).
The beaches affected by the BP oil spill may look cleaner, but the Surfrider Foundation's early release of its State of the Beach study shows otherwise.
BP used the solvent Corexit to help disperse the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
BLOG: Mutant Crabs Showing Up in the Gulf
The Corexit has mixed with the oil and turned to tar. The mess isn't degrading as hoped. The solvent seems to be inhibiting the microbial degradation of hydrocarbons in the crude oil.
And although beach bums won't notice it, the toxins in the mixture actually penetrate wet skin faster than dry skin. The only known way to detect their presence is with UV light, which is how James H. "Rip" Kirby III, of the University of South Florida, conducted much of his research.
That means that most of the sites sampled (26 of 32) had concentrations of the organic pollutant polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon, or PAH, above levels that the National Institutes of Health and Occupational Health and Safety Administration consider carcinogenic. PAH has been found in surface layers of the beaches and in lower layers of sediment, where it could potentially lead to contamination of groundwater sources, Mother Jones reports.
"Use of Corexit brand dispersants should be halted immediately for any and all open water applications," the author writes. "The results of using Corexit dispersant are simply unknown at the present time, and their effects on the environment are clearly more widespread in the Gulf of Mexico than previously thought."
A study of the effects of the absorption of toxins through wet skin should also be conducted, the author recommends.
Photo: Legs of a researcher involved in the study. Credit: James H "Rip" Kirby III, Surfrider Foundation