Inside America’s Worst Toxic Waste Cover-Up

Film Review: The Big Fix exposes BP’s efforts to minimize awareness of North America’s biggest oil spill.
The Big Fix Movie Poster

The Big Fix

Josh and Rebecca Tickell, 2011, 89 mins.

In the weeks after the Deepwater Horizon platform exploded and oil began pouring into the Gulf of Mexico, filmmaker Josh Tickell was in touch with folks back home in Louisiana. The stories they told about the spill were very different from what he was hearing in the mainstream media. So Josh and his wife Rebecca hired a film crew and drove south to find out for themselves what was going on.

The Big Fix is the result. It doesn’t feature the poisoned turtles, tar-soaked pelicans, or expanses of black crude that are now familiar images of North America’s biggest oil spill. It focuses instead on BP’s efforts to minimize awareness of the spill’s extent, creating what one gulf resident calls “the worst toxic waste cover-up in America’s history.”

While an oil company shill was on national news saying that bacteria were eating the oil in the gulf, BP was applying a chemical solution to the problem: the oil dispersant Corexit, which contains a solvent known to be harmful to organisms. According to The Big Fix, BP began semi-covert application of Corexit in the first days after the spill, continued to apply Corexit in huge amounts for months, and has not been held accountable for the consequences.

Although Corexit breaks oil into small particles invisible to the eye, it doesn’t make it go away, as Gulf residents suffering from exposure tell a federal official at a town hall meeting. By mid-July BP claimed to have stopped using Corexit. But local people could still smell Corexit in the air. They saw vats of the stuff in transit and planes spraying clouds of Corexit, often by night. In one telling scene, shot in September, the -Tickells sneak past security to film a BP clean-up crew spraying Corexit on a beach under cover of darkness. 

As marine toxicologist Susan Shaw explains, “The mixture of dispersant and oil is much more toxic than either oil alone, or dispersant alone.” When the filmmaker hints that BP is still secretly spraying dispersant, her jaw drops, and she sputters, nearly at a loss for words.

She’s one of the many sources interviewed in the film—journalists, academics, scientists, fishermen, former government officials, and whistleblowers—who tell the real story of the spill, its aftermath, what BP got away with, and why. Their testimony leads Josh to conclude, “We live in a corrupt system, where a small few put power and profit over the health of humankind and the planet.”

That’s a stark statement. But hope is provided by the army of truth-tellers enlisted in this film. They set the record straight and remind us that, when united in action, we have more power than we realize.

You may also be interested in ..


American Teacher

Vanessa Roth, 2011, 80 mins.

The solution to failing schools? Start by respecting teachers as professionals and pay them accordingly, says American Teacher. Profiles of excellent teachers prove the point. Some take on extra work—or leave teaching—just to pay the mortgage. Campaigning, positive, and resolutely pro-teacher.


We Are Not Ghosts

Mark Dworkin and Melissa Young, 2012, 52 mins.

In its manufacturing heyday, Detroit was a dynamic hub where bustling immigrant communities rubbed shoulders with the great African-American migration. Detroiters recount their own history, and show how they’re rebuilding the city they love. The next best thing to being there.


  • For Gulf residents, the BP oil spill has made the problem of unchecked corporate power painfully clear. Exxon Valdez survivor Riki Ott on why this may be the moment to overcome our political divides and take back our democracy.

  • Photo essay: A photographer confronts the BP oil disaster.

  • On Wednesday, the news headlines offered a stark comparison between two possible futures for energy production in America.
No Paywall. No Ads. Just Readers Like You.
You can help fund powerful stories to light the way forward.
Donate Now.