The first personal injury lawsuit involving the chemical dispersant Corexit 9500 has surfaced in Alabama, where two Gulf Coast residents and property owners allege that BP PLC's use of the product is causing people to get sick.
In Wright v. BP, filed July 26 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Alabama, the plaintiffs claim BP has dumped millions of gallons of toxic chemicals into the Gulf of Mexico to disperse and sink crude oil to the bottom of the ocean. The plaintiffs allege that one method by which the company has applied Corexit 9500 -- spraying it from airplanes in the middle of the night -- has caused Gulf Coast residents to suffer breathing and gastrointestinal problems, as well as property damage.
According to plaintiffs attorney Jere Beasley of Montgomery, Ala.'s Beasley, Allen, Crow, Methvin, Portis & Miles, whose firm filed the suit, more than 100 people in recent months have received emergency room treatments for nausea, dizziness, shortness of breath and extreme headaches. Those problems, he alleges, are the result of exposure to Corexit. Hundreds more have visited their personal doctors for similar problems, he said.
"It's our judgment that the oil is extremely, extremely bad, but the chemicals could be worse in the scheme of things," Beasley said. "They're spraying it from the air and ... it's not supposed to be on shore."
In the complaint, the plaintiffs allege that BP has used Corexit "to lessen the public reaction to the oil spill by forcing the oil to the bottom of the Gulf ... and to hide the massive amounts of oil at the bottom of the Gulf."
The lawsuit also names Nalco Co., which manufactures Corexit 9500. The suit, which seeks class action status, is asking for compensatory and punitive damages for bodily injury, emotional distress and property damage as well as "all appropriate medical monitoring relief."
The personal injury suit comes one month after a group of Louisiana oystermen filed a federal class action against BP and Nalco claiming that Corexit 9500 "is four times more toxic than the oil itself." In that lawsuit, Parker v. Nalco Co., the plaintiffs do not allege personal injuries.
According to both suits, Corexit 9500 has been illegal in the United Kingdom since 1998, when it was found to be harmful to the food chain.
BP declined comment on the suit, but a BP spokesman noted the company has not used any dispersant since the oil well was capped on July 15.
Nalco officials were unavailable for comment, but the company defends the use of Corexit on its website: "COREXIT 9500, the only dispersant Nalco is manufacturing to help break up the oil spilling into the Gulf of Mexico, is a simple blend of six well-established, safe ingredients that biodegrade, do not bioaccumulate and are commonly found in popular household products. The COREXIT products do not contain carcinogens or reproductive toxins. All the ingredients have been extensively studied for many years and have been determined safe and effective by the EPA."
In May, however, the EPA urged BP to stop using Corexit 9500 because of its toxicity.