Journalism in the Public Interest

In School Outreach, BP and NOAA ‘Dispel Myths’ About Dispersants, Subsurface Oil


Snapper are filleted at Inland Seafood in New Orleans, La. According to reports, BP and the government are giving presentations at local schools showing that "oil floats" and Gulf seafood is safe. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Even as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency calls for more research into the long-term effects of the chemical dispersants BP used in the Gulf, representatives of BP and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have reached out to local schools to “dispel myths” about dispersants and subsurface oil, according to recent reports in the Houma Courier and the Tri-Parish Times. (We first noticed the Tri-Parish Times piece via TreeHugger.)

BP and NOAA appear to be doing demonstrations for local schools using a 10-gallon fish tank full of water, some cooking oil, and some dishwashing detergent to simulate the properties of oil and the effects of dispersants.

The Houma Courier quoted NOAA science support coordinator Gary Ott as telling the children, “Oil floats. See, we’ve tested it.” (The oil-floats argument is also what then-BP CEO Tony Hayward said when first confronted with evidence of underwater oil plumes this summer.)

According to the two reports, Ott had the children try to use eyedroppers to suck up the oil, simulating the inefficiency of skimmers. He had them use paper towels to simulate absorbent booms.

And then he applied dishwashing detergent to the floating oil to break it down — simulating dispersants. Though he acknowledged the dispersed oil doesn’t disappear and could hurt some fish species, Ott told the children that the chemicals were broken down within weeks by microbes, the Courier reported. He also assured the children that Gulf seafood was safe to eat.

Scientists, as we’ve reported, have found thick layers of oily sediment on the Gulf sea floor. And more recently, researchers at Oregon State University found abnormally high levels of carcinogenic chemicals in water off the coast of Louisiana, Mother Jones noted.

We’ve asked both NOAA and BP for comment regarding the demonstrations. A BP spokeswoman told me she was working on putting together a response, but has not yet provided one. We’ve asked specifically what “myths” about dispersants the company was trying to dispel.

In any case, here’s how the company explained the outreach to the Tri-Parish Times: 

"The primary purpose [of the demonstration] is to inform and educate students on the methods used to clean up the oil in the Gulf and the wetlands and marshes," Janella Newsome, BP media liaison said in a press release. "It's also to dispel myths about dispersants, subsurface oil and seafood safety."

According to BP representatives, it won't be the last demonstration.

"This is the first session of many going on," Charles Gaiennie, a BP representative said at Oaklawn's library last week. "We are starting here in Terrebonne Parish with eighth grade because they are the first of school age kids that have a defined science class. We wanted to reach out to schools that are near communities that have been directly impacted by the oil spill, so Terrebonne was a good choice. There's a lot of information that's out there isn't current or accurate."

During one demonstration, reported the Tri-Parish Times, a BP representative asked the students questions about the oil spill. Students who answered correctly received a BP hat or pen as a prize.

What’s left to say?  That’s what desperate despots do towards the end, when the empire starts breaking up, the barbarians are at the gates and the people start worshiping new idols.

Yeah, oil floats but CRUD sinks quite often. Wasn’t it in 1976 that this Dispersant was SHOWN to cause problems?  Gee, how that is so easily forgotten.

I sure am glad to hear about BP taking the offensive on dispelling “myths” about the supposedly bad things that might have happened recently in the Gulf. These demonstrations seem like sort of a “cognitive dispersant” for any lingering worries that might be hanging around in the heads of youngsters.

I have to wonder why school districts willingly serve up their young minds to corporate spin masters. Can’t they get by without the BP hat and pen?

You have to be frigging kidding!!!  It is also OUR government diswaying the attention or rather it’s liability since Halliburton and the government are so cozy, Halliburton is listed in all the law suites.  Great, tell the little kiddies to whine and cry to their parents to not hurt the big bad guys!!  Not to mention when the parents die early of a ‘vague cancer’, they leave the little kiddies and they are already programmed for their response in ten years when everyone has an issue with their health.  But the government said they were good people and the water and fisheesss are safe.  BLIND SIDED IN THE ABSOLUTE TENTH DEGREE. 

Oil floats?  when it is pure
Oil floats?  when it is hit with dispersant
So oil and dispersant also float?  HAHAHAHAHAH

I thought that was BP case for the tsunami of dispersant they deluged on the gulf.

Again, keep them dumb, ignorant, reliant, dependant and poor in Louisiana and all the people act like ants following the queen.


Woops, almost forgot!!  How did the parents of those children like the ‘gifts’ that were given and if the family may have a parent out of work from the moratorium???  FORGOT!!!!  We must always advertise the enemy that took the jobs, the lives, the water, the sea AT ALL COSTS!!!

Remember when Obama was giving out propaganda to schools last year and the parents became outraged?  Where are the parents in this incident??  Did the parents sign a waiver to allow their children to listen to the propaganda of the government and PRIVATE BUSINESS on the UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT DIME!!!  Were these private schools only???  Were these public schools??

Not everyone is SMOKED, .........................

Has there ever been a time in history when a foreign company gets access to school curriculum? An oil company? Discussing facts that are currently under review by Congress and hundreds of independent scientists?
In the spill commission meeting last week Parish Prez Nungesser said, as of Sept. 27, he still did not know who was in charge. Who is?

Great point about a foreign government having access to school curriculum. Geez, who was bought off, for how much, and what will they “sell” their kids for next?

California’s energy curriculum for science classes was written by BP.

Awwww…doesn’t that just make you warm and fuzzy all over.

You are right about California.
  My favorite quote;  “California officials defended BP’s involvement in interviews with the Bee, saying that the company’s involvement was “minor” and that it was “important to get all sides of the environmental debate involved in developing the classroom materials.”

Young spongy brains soaking up all BP’s BS

So if you have enough money you can even buy our children and their schools. Good for you BP you shouldn’t be hunted down and wiped off of the face of the earth.

You know there is something crooked going on when the government partners up with the responsible party, to do damage control. Absolutely unbelievable. NOOA will close the waters if they find a cigarette butt usually, but now they are pushing this all clear message while BP continues to pull tons of oil out of our gulf every day?
There needs to be criminal investigations done and a special independent prosecutor appointed to look into actions by NOOA, EPA, and the Obama administration. I have never seen such wholesale fraud and corruption in all my years.

Brian J. Donovan

Oct. 6, 2010, 9:18 a.m.

David Hollander, a University of South Florida oceanographer, headed a research team that discovered a six-mile (10-km) wide “oil cloud” while on a government-funded expedition aboard the Weatherbird II, a vessel operated by the university’s College of Marine Science.

The underwater contaminants are particularly “insidious” because they are invisible, Hollander said, adding that they were suspended in what looked like normal seawater. “It may be due to the application of the dispersants that a portion of the petroleum has extracted itself away from the crude and is now incorporated into the waters with solvents and detergents,” he added. He said dispersants, a cocktail of organic solvents and detergents, had never been used at the depth of BP’s well before, and no one really knows how they interact physically and chemically under pressure with oil, water and gases.

Hollander said the contaminants raised troubling questions about whether they would “cascade up the food web.” The threat is that they will poison plankton and fish larvae before making their way into animals higher up the food chain, Hollander said.

Brian J. Donovan

Oct. 6, 2010, 9:21 a.m.

Sylvia Earle, the National Geographic’s explorer-in-residence and former chief scientist at NOAA, stated that “the instructions for humans using Corexit warn that it is an eye and skin irritant, is harmful by inhalation, in contact with skin and if swallowed, and may cause injury to red blood cells, kidney or the liver.” “People are warned not to take Corexit internally,” she said, “but the fish, turtles, copepods and jellies have no choice. They are awash in a lethal brew of oil and butoxyethanol.”

One problem with breaking down the oil is that it makes it easier for the many tiny underwater organisms to ingest this toxic soup.

Carl Safina, president and co-founder of Blue Ocean Institute, believes BP’s dispersant strategy has more to do with PR than good science. “It takes something that we can see that we could at least partly deal with and dissolves it so we can’t see it and can’t deal with it. It’s an out-of-sight, out-of-mind strategy. It’s just to get it away from the cameras on the shoreline,” Safina says.

For a better understanding of why toxic dispersants have been used by BP in such an excessive and unprecedented manner, visit:


Corexit: just like dish soap!

Good point Charles Fox.  Dish soap, after all, is perfectly safe to ingest and will produce no toxicity, that is why we all just leave it on the dishes when we eat rather than rinsing it off. 

For those who are mad about this, and live in the U.S. I suggest going to:

At each one there are phone numbers that can be used to call the relevant offices and make direct, but civil, complaints.  At the end of the day it is up to the local schools whether they let BP in but it is up to us and our elected reps whether they do so under cover of NOAA and with the support of our tax dollars. 

Everything about this response has been awful and NOAA’s behavior has varied from incompetent to reprehensible.  They are clearly overly politicized and political pressure is needed to make them stop or at least keep quiet. 

At each call make the point that you do not like having your tax dollars spent to bail out BP.

I live on the Gulf Coast, people are already getting sick from the Corexit.  Dishwashing liquid does not usually contain hexane.  Cooking oil doesn’t usually contain methane.  NOAA used to be a reputable organization.  I guess they have been OBAMAIZED!

william woodham

Oct. 13, 2010, 7:25 p.m.

cooking oil is not crude oil,take motor oil put it in water,add dishsoap,where does the oil go?TO THE BOTTOM,why do you think the epa does not want you to do this.Ihave seenpeople pump out thier bilges with nothing but soapy water to keep the oil off the surface,so Bp and noaa who do you think you are fooling?NOBODY

Unfortunately for a lot of people and a certain large ecosystem, I think bp may be succeeding at fooling most of the people. Have yo seen those nauseating television ads? Anyway, we’ll all forget this soon and breathe a huge sigh of relief as bp stock prices return to normal. As long as the most rapacious people are in charge - and they want to be - we’ll get the same miserable results. Corporate governance at our expense. At this point it looks like the parasite may kill the host.

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