Media release: Doctors call on regulator to reject banned toxic chemical in the Great Australian Bight

Doctors for the Environment  Australia  calls on the national offshore oil and gas regulator to reject Equinor's plan to use a banned toxic chemical dispersant for an oil spill  in the Great Australian Bight, as it would place response workers and local communities at risk of serious illness.  

DEA  also demands that Equinor must be required to present a human health impacts assessment as part of the assessment process to ensure the safety of  workers in the event of a spill.   

These major issues are outlined in a timely report on dispersants for oil spills  by Associate Professor Jodie Rummer of James Cook University which was released today by Greenpeace. 

The Dispersant Delusion: Equinor’s plan to poison the Great Australian Bight with banned toxic chemicals comes ahead of a decision by the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA) on whether to allow Equinor to use the banned chemical.  

DEA Spokesperson Professor David Shearman says, “An oil spill would have catastrophic health effects on workers and coastal communities and the marine environment, as well as the local fishing and tourism industries.” 

In the event of an oil spill,  Equinor plans to use an existing Australian stockpile of the dispersant Corexit 9500  which the Australian Maritime Safety Authority considers not safe enough to pass its most recent standards due to concerns about its toxicity  to workers and the environment. 

After the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico where 6.9 million litres of dispersants were used, Corexit was found to be harmful or fatal to a wide range of marine life. 

“It’s highly likely that dispersants are responsible for some of the many illnesses recorded after the Gulf spill,” says Professor Shearman. 

“Many workers and residents of coastal communities developed symptoms including cough, shortness of breath, irritation of the skin, eyes, nose and throat, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, headache, dizziness, fatigue, weakness, memory impairment.  

“Some people developed abnormal liver and kidney function tests and blood cell counts. The development of psychological illness in children was of great concern. 

 “In their scramble for more gas and oil development Australian governments have shown little concern for informing the public of the growing evidence for toxic, health damaging substances including carcinogens released in oil and gas production. 

“Associate Professor Rummer’s  report highlights once again the inadequacy of Australian regulatory systems, and it strengthens the case for human health impacts to be included in new environmental laws, which are now urgent.   

“History shows a concerning frequency of oil spills in Australian waters, and you have to question why drilling is necessary when the world must transition quickly from all fossil fuels to curb climate change,” says  Professor Shearman.   

Media contact

Professor David Shearman 

Professor David Shearman AM FRACP is Emeritus professor of Medicine University of Adelaide and Co-founder of Doctors for the Environment Australia 

Dr Graeme McLeay,  DEA Energy Spokesperson 

For interviews, please contact Media and Communications Coordinator Carmela Ferraro on 0410  703 074

Further reading 

Fact sheet on the health consequences of oil spills 

Submission on the Stromlo-1 Exploration Drilling Program Draft Environment Plan 

The implications for human health and wellbeing of expanding gas mining in Australia

This Review explains the carcinogenic chemicals with are common to all onshore and offshore oil and gas mining  

About DEA 

DEA is an independent organisation of medical doctors protecting health through care of the environment

We are supported by a Scientific Advisory Committee of distinguished health experts: Prof Stephen Boyden AM, Prof Emeritus Chris Burrell AO, Prof Colin Butler, Prof Peter Doherty AC, Prof Michael Kidd AM, Prof David de Kretser AC, Prof Stephen Leeder AO, Prof Ian Lowe AO, Prof Robyn McDermott, Prof Lidia Morawska, Prof Peter Newman AO, Prof Emeritus Sir Gustav Nossal AC, Prof Hugh Possingham, Prof Lawrie Powell AC, Prof Fiona Stanley AC, Dr Rosemary Stanton OAM, Dr Norman Swan 

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