Reproductive health impacts of the BP oil spill

Last week at Truthout Lucinda Marshall raised the topic of the reproductive health impacts of the BP oil spill. We don’t know all the chemicals in the oil and dispersants, but what we do know already contains some pretty disturbing information. Benzene, a common ingredient in oil, may impair fertility. As for the dispersants:

Corexit, the dispersant that is being used by BP contains 2ButoxyEthanol, which “may damage the developing fetus. There is limited evidence that 2-Butoxy Ethanol may damage the male reproductive system (including decreasing the sperm count) in animals and may affect female fertility in animals,” according to the safety sheet.

Marshall followed up the original article with a blog post detailing new information that’s come out about the chemicals used. BP is still trying to reveal as little as possible, but there are definitely toxic substances included, some of which are known to have reproductive health impacts.
The effects of dumping toxins into the Gulf of Mexico are being felt first by people who live and work on the coast, including clean up workers. Folks in this area will likely feel the worst of the spill’s impact for a while. But toxins will of course move into our food after becoming part of the aquatic food chain. They’ll be spread through weather, too, including acid rain as Marshall points out.
It’s hard to overstate the devastating environmental impact of the BP spill. One of the results of the spill will be negative reproductive health impacts. I’m very grateful Marshall’s doing the hard work of raising this topic and trying to find answers. We need a lot more information from BP to understand the devastation they’ve caused. And we need to keep paying attention to every aspect of the spill and its aftermath, including the link here between environmental degradation and reproductive oppression, which is being caused by the spill.

Boston, MA

Jos Truitt is Executive Director of Development at Feministing. She joined the team in July 2009, became an Editor in August 2011, and Executive Director in September 2013. She writes about a range of topics including transgender issues, abortion access, and media representation. Jos first got involved with organizing when she led a walk out against the Iraq war at her high school, the Boston Arts Academy. She was introduced to the reproductive justice movement while at Hampshire College, where she organized the Civil Liberties and Public Policy Program’s annual reproductive justice conference. She has worked on the National Abortion Federation’s hotline, was a Field Organizer at Choice USA, and has volunteered as a Pro-Choice Clinic Escort. Jos has written for publications including The Guardian, Bilerico, RH Reality Check, Metro Weekly, and the Columbia Journalism Review. She has spoken and trained at numerous national conferences and college campuses about trans issues, reproductive justice, blogging, feminism, and grassroots organizing. Jos completed her MFA in Printmaking at the San Francisco Art Institute in Spring 2013. In her "spare time" she likes to bake and work on projects about mermaids.

Jos Truitt is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Development.

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  • Comrade Kevin

    I can’t even watch the news. My Grandmother lived on Alabama’s Gulf Coast and I hold many fond memories of summers spent there. Those who have been there recently say that the smell of oil is overpowering.
    I thought I’d never say this, but perhaps if a hurricane hit the Gulf, it would at least bring all, if not most of the oil onshore where it would be easier to remove. As it stands right now, isolated plumes of oil have been washing ashore one by one. And, it would be less destructive than if it hangs around, destroying wetlands, marshes, and estuaries in the process.

  • CzarSketch

    I agree, this is really, really bad news for reproductive health. It’s bad for anyone, though, regardless of reproductive status. Benzene is a known carcinogen, affects the immune system adversely, and acute exposure can cause death. It destroys the bone marrow, as well. It causes the same effects in most animals as it does in humans.
    I know this is a feminist space for the airing of relevant issues, but I think the article above makes it seem that the ONLY health risks are related to reproductive health…
    Just my 2 cents.

  • sillyrabbittrix

    Hmmm, I wonder if we’ll be seeing the pro-life organizations and groups publicly standing up against BP, the dispersants, or their effects. Methinks not – methinks they are limited to caring only about the effects of one very specific kind of problem in the water: birth control.
    Funny how that worked out – But no! They are not trying to control women and their reproductive choices. They are only trying to PROTECT us po’ li’l women. And they care SO MUCH about the babies!! Except when it’s not poor women they would have to go after, but big corporations and people with money. pfft.