SANTA BARBARA, CA – Numerous toxic chemicals known to pose severe threats to human health and marine life contaminated the Pacific Ocean and beaches when more than 100,000 gallons of oil spilled from a ruptured pipeline in Santa Barbara County, according to independent test results released today by Water Defense. The non-profit organization’s testing of spilled oil deposited on the beach and water samples collected from the May 19 Refugio State Beach oil spill confirmed the presence of several toxic chemicals including, but not limited to, Ethylbenzene, Toluene, Xylene, and Naphthalene. The test results also confirmed the presence of Glutaraldehyde – a biocide that is also a key additive in drilling, fracking and acidizing injections – in the pipeline oil deposited on the beach. These chemicals, which are known to be a severe threat to human health, were released onto the beach and into the Pacific Ocean, contaminating ocean waters and threating marine life.
“These toxic chemicals should never be released in our environment let alone into the water column and beaches of the Pacific Ocean. Their presence indicates just how dangerous this oil spill really is to people, marine life and our environment,” said Scott Smith, chief scientist for Water Defense. “These chemicals can never be completely cleaned up, especially with the archaic scraping of the beach and rocks with manual brushes.”
The Water Defense results come days after several studies confirmed that the Refugio oil also contaminated beaches in southern California, including Manhattan Beach*, and come one week after a study from the Unified Command Center claimed the chemicals in the oil were not a concern. The latter study failed to disclose evidence to support its conclusions, or the names and affiliations of scientists involved.
Tidal variations cause the oil deposits on the beach to re-release oil and its related chemicals into the water. According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, exposure to the chemicals found in the tests by both the Unified Command Center and Water Defense can lead to cancer and reproductive health problems. Chemicals such as Naphthalene, Ethylbenzene, Xylene, and Toluene can enter the body through the skin and accumulate in body tissue, which is a particular concern for beachgoers who encounter tar balls on southern California beaches.
“These chemicals are a threat to our health and the health of our unborn,” said Dr. Kevin Beckmen, who has practiced Family Medicine in Solvang for fifteen years. “This spill has exposed this community to chemicals for which there are no safe levels of exposure. They can cause cellular damage and death with both immediate toxicity and long-term health effects including birth defects, abortion and cancer.”
These chemicals are also a serious concern for marine life. For example, in the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon Spill in the Gulf of Mexico, initial test levels didn’t show chemical concentrations that “exceed human health benchmarks,” but the spill has had a tremendous impact on the health of the ecosystem, with Naphthalene linked to the skin lesions seen on snapper and dolphins still dying five years later.
Some of the chemicals present in the samples, including Glutaraldehyde and volatile organic compounds similar to Ethylbenzene are also commonly used by industry when drilling and when injecting fluids to stimulate the flow of oil, such as with the extreme energy extraction methods of fracking, acidizing and cyclic steam injection. A recent investigation by the Environmental Defense Center revealed that several ExxonMobil- and Venoco-owned offshore oil rigs that feed the now broken Plains All-American Pipeline have used acidizing multiple times and have applied for permits to conduct fracking. Chemicals additives — including biocides — are often in the fluids released into the ocean from ordinary accidents and spills, along with the other toxic chemicals in oil.
“As we transition to renewable energy, the Refugio oil spill is a stark reminder why we must simultaneously phase out oil development in California,” said Adam Scow, California Director of Food & Water Watch. “As a first step, Governor Brown must ban fracking, acidizing and other extreme forms of extraction, both onshore and offshore in order to prevent future spills and end the release of toxic and often undisclosed chemicals into California’s environment.”
*Phase 2 testing results, which include oil and water samples from beaches in Southern California counties are expected to be released within the next 10 days.
Water Defense Test Results:
Contact: Sandra Lupien: [email protected]; 510-681-3171
Water Defense is dedicated to clean water, rooted in the belief that access to clean water is a fundamental human right. Our mission is to use technology and public engagement to inform people about what is in their water, hold water polluters accountable, and keep our waterways and drinking water sources free from contamination and industrial degradation. For more information, visit waterdefense.org.
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