Rally Held in Seattle Regarding Toxic Oil Dispersants in Salish Sea

Salish Sea Marine Sanctuary
The Salish Sea is located in southwest British Columbia and northwest Washington State. Image via Salish Sea Marine Sanctuary.

Commercial fishermen, environmentalists and Native American entities concerned about toxics in the Salish Sea rallied outside the Gates Foundation in Seattle on Jan. 20 to voice concerns over the use of Corexit dispersants for oil spill response.

Their goal, rally co-organizer Riki Ott said, was meant to encourage the manufacturer, Nalco, to stop producing these dispersants and instead use the ingredients as feed stock for other products.

Ott said that Washington, like every other coastal state, stockpiles Corexit dispersants for oil spill response and pre-authorizes dispersant use. The product is toxic to orcas, salmon, herring and communities who depend on the vitality and bounty of the sea, she said.

(Corexit is produced by Illinois-based Nalco Holding Company, a supplier of water, energy and air improvement solutions and services that’s a subsidiary of Ecolab, a water treatment, purification, cleaning and hygiene provider corporation headquartered in Minnesota.)

Ott is the director of the environmental entity The ALERT (A Locally Empowered Response Team) Project, which focuses on the risk to communities from common oil and oil-based chemicals dispersed to clean up oil spills and other disasters. She said that Bill and Melinda Gates are the largest individual shareholders of Nalco Holding Company’s parent company, Ecolab. The federal government currently sanctions use of Corexit dispersants in its national oil spill response plan.

In response to the rally, Ecolab spokesman Roman Blahoski said that the company “is committed to operating sustainably and with care for the environment.”

“Ecolab acquired Nalco in December 2011 and diverted the oil dispersant business in June 2020. Ecolab and its subsidiary Nalco Water no longer manufacture oil dispersants,” he explained.

According to ALERT, the federal government is the largest owner of Corexit dispersant stockpiles, purchased at taxpayers’ expense.

During the noon hour rally, the group sought to have Bill and Melinda Gates or their representatives use their power as Ecolab shareholders and public influencers to help stop the manufacture and use of Corexit dispersants and safely destroy existing stockpiles. They also delivered a formal petition, asking the same, to the Gates Foundation.

The planned rally was part of a larger ALERT campaign to ban Corexit dispersants with a goal of safeguarding the Salish Sea ecosystem.

Efforts addressing the current environmental challenges in the Salish Sea to orcas and salmon are already underway in Washington state and British Columbia, in hope of providing increased food sources and improved habitat and boost the health and numbers of those species.