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EPA Orders BP To Stop Using Toxic Dispersants

EPA Orders BP To Stop Using Toxic Dispersants

Earlier this week, Care2′s Nancy Robers reported that BP was using a chemical dispersant called Corexit–also known as deodorized kerosene–to break spilled oil into tiny drops, which would then sink underwater.

(Kind of like fighting fire with fire, huh?)

While it seemed that this toxic practice would continue unabated for the duration of the spill, environmentalists everywhere cheered when the EPA announced it had informed BP officials that they had 24 hours to choose a less toxic form of chemical dispersant to clean up its mess in the Gulf of Mexico.

The Washington Post reports that 655,000 gallons of Corexit have been sprayed into the Gulf so far, with little to no thought of negative effects on the already damaged ocean habitat.

The EPA directive requires BP to identify a less toxic alternative – to be used both on the surface and under the water at the source of the oil leak – within 24 hours and to begin using the less toxic dispersant within 72 hours of submitting the alternative.

If BP is unable to identify available alternative dispersant products, BP must provide the Coast Guard and EPA with a detailed description of the alternative dispersants investigated, and the reason they believe those products did not meet the required standards.

While Corexit is currently on the agency’s approved list, BP was attempting to use it in unprecedented volumes and, last week, began using it underwater at the source of the leak – a procedure that has never been tried before, and could be very dangerous for deep sea wildlife.

Just days ago, Congressman Edward Markey (D-Mass.) sent an urgent letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson noting that some formulations of Corexit were banned in Britain more than a decade ago due to their tested harmful effects to sea life.

“I commend the Obama administration for acting swiftly to address my concerns that the dispersant BP chose to use is more toxic than other available formulations,” said Markey, who chairs the Energy and Environment Subcommittee in the Energy and Commerce Committee. “The effect of long-term use of dispersants on the marine ecosystem has not been extensively studied, and we need to act with the utmost of caution.”

Some might say this cautious stance is “too little, too late” when it comes to addressing the risks of offshore drilling, but with the undersea well still spewing crude oil into the Gulf a month after the intial accident, we’ve got to take the good news as it comes.

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Find full Care2 Coverage of the Spill here.

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65 comments

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3:18PM PDT on Jun 18, 2010

yes, the complex task of stopping the gush should be #1 for obama, etc., BUT the dispersants situation is a no-brainer, easy one. they still using them? i can't read the article since i've already gone over my limit today - i've been inundated lately and trying to cut back on all the gulf stuff ... See Moretoday. i've heard the dispersants are used for bp's "pr" so that the oil is dispersed from the TOP of the water and therefore harder for people to see. horrible. another high-ranking government official should have been on that one many weeks ago. is hillary busy? lol, but SOMEONE should be ON this. as for pressuring them, i already have my hands full on the stoppage as well as clean energy. anyone else wants to make sure those ^&*# dispersants are no longer being used, i encourage them to pressure our government, epa, eco-groups, etc. on that. yes, please, please, please do.

5:39AM PDT on Jun 6, 2010

Apart from the indescribable damage to the natural environment, this event has undermined BP's "green" claims, of which it has made so much, perhaps permanently. It is however the primary role and function of Government, to ensure that high risk enterprises are carried out safely and that precautionary plans are in place, and swing into action, in case of disaster. In this the United States Government appears to have been lacking. BP did not learn sufficiently from Mexico City. Washington did not learn sufficiently from Katrina. Dispersants are not the answer, especially toxic ones. They merely create a finer emulsion that coats the sea bed causing untold and long term damage. After Torrey Canyon the dispersants did far more damage than the oil, which was bad enough. How long does it take for the oil industry to learn comparatively simple lessons? But we the public must take our share of the blame too! Our apathy reflects itself in government. Our insatiable demand for oil and profit makes the environment and safety in practice, a very secondary consideration which "sweeping the oil under the waves" will do nothing to assuage.

1:10AM PDT on Jun 3, 2010

Thanks for sharing

6:00AM PDT on Jun 1, 2010

Why was BP ever allowed to use Corexit.
Surely a lot of people and at least chemists/scientists know the toxicity of Corexit.
Sure the use has now been banned but only after 650000 gallons of the stuff was dispersed.
Howmany birds and sealife was killed by this.
Even if the stuff was little known, the boffins at BP must have known about the dangers of this poison!

5:06AM PDT on May 30, 2010

Don´t think more chemicals are ever a good idea...

12:10AM PDT on May 27, 2010

EPA's mission is to protect human health and to safeguard the natural environment?air, water, and land?upon which life depends. For more than 30 years, the EPA has been working for a cleaner, healthier environment for the American people. Im stlll watching and waiting for this to happen..

4:14PM PDT on May 26, 2010

From what I have seen on the news the dispersant just masks the problem by pushing it under the sea (much like sweeping dirt under the carpet). When the oil is pushed to deeper depths, it will no doubt impact sea life far below the surface as well as what is already being devastated on the top. What is the benefit in that??? When fish ingest balls of oil, they die. Period. We have to get this mess cleaned up.

8:31AM PDT on May 25, 2010

It is about time the chemical they were using had been banned in Europe for over a decade.

8:15PM PDT on May 23, 2010

soooo somehow if the oil SINKS, it's cleaned up. Great logic BP. Way to sweep it under the rug.

1:45PM PDT on May 23, 2010

It is so typical of big oil to try cleaning up one disaster by creating a new one

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
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Beth Buczynski Beth is a freelance writer and editor living in the Rocky Mountain West. So far, Beth has lived in... more
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