The Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill

bp logoThe Deepwater Horizon oil spill (also referred to as the BP oil spill) began on April 20, 2010, in the Gulf of Mexico.   Considered the largest accidental marine oil spill in the history, an estimated 8% to 31% larger in volume than the previously largest.   The US Government estimated the total discharge at 4.9 million barrels (210 million US gal; 780,000 m3).  

A massive response ensued to protect beaches, wetlands and estuaries from the spreading oil utilizing skimmer ships, floating booms, controlled burns and 1.84 million US gallons (7,000 m3) of Corexit oil dispersant.  Due to the months-long spill, along with adverse effects from the response and cleanup activities, extensive damage to marine and wildlife habitats and fishing and tourism industries was reported. In Louisiana, 4.9 million pounds (2.09 million kg) of oily material was removed from the beaches in 2013, over double the amount collected in 2012. Oil cleanup crews worked four days a week on 55 miles of Louisiana shoreline throughout 2013. Oil continued to be found as far from the Macondo site as the waters off the Florida Panhandle and Tampa Bay, where scientists said the oil and dispersant mixture is embedded in the sand. In 2013 it was reported that dolphins and other marine life continued to die in record numbers with infant dolphins dying at six times the normal rate. One study released in 2014 reported that tuna and amberjack that were exposed to oil from the spill developed deformities of the heart and other organs that would be expected to be fatal or at least life-shortening and another study found that cardiotoxicity might have been widespread in animal life exposed to the spill.

gulf mexico oil spill boatCorexit (oil dispersant) was used in unprecedented quantities during the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and became the largest use of such chemicals in the United States.  In addition to spraying the dispersant onto the surface slick, it was used in an untested, off-label manner when BP injected it at the broken well-head, roughly 5,000 feet below the surface.  Researchers continue to examine the effects and effectiveness of Corexit. Studies have so far indicated that the dispersant is toxic to marine life. Corexit has been shown to exert a synergistic effect when mixed with oil, increasing its toxicity.  During this time, the US EPA (United States Environmental Protection Agency) mandated that EBPI’s Rotifer toxicity test be used for detection of toxicity during this process. 

The Marine Water Rotifer Toxicity Test ROTOXKIT M which utilizes the Brachionus plicatilis was mandated for this purpose.  As the test  cysts can be hatched on demand, and minimal  equipment required to run the analysis, the toxicity test in a “kit” form was a perfect fit.  During this time hundreds of mandated Rotifer toxicity test were conducted on the research vessel GEOEXPLOER to understand the oil dispersant mixture effects on marine organisms.

u south florida logoAs BP scientists worked close with the US EPA in monitoring direct toxicity effects of marine life, EBPI worked closely with various research groups who had interest in measuring toxicity at lower levels (genetic toxicity).  Working with Dr. John Paul’s laboratory at the University of South Florida, EBPI modified protocols to allow researchers measure genetic effects in saline water samples of 33ppt based on fresh water organisms.  This research out of Dr. John Paul’s laboratory was showcased on the National Geographic Channel “Can the Gulf Survive”.  (

Other research carried out using EBPI’s toxicity tests included “Environmental stress in the Gulf of Mexico and its potential impact on public health” which was published in April of 2016. Researchers   employed portable airborne particulate samplers and in combination with EBPI’s UMU-ChromoTest Kit to measure levels of genetic toxicity of air samples in effected coastal areas.