Environmental Groups Sue EPA Over Use of Chemical Dispersants in Oil Spills

Posted in Alaska Maritime News,BP British Petroleum,Government,Gulf Coast,Maritime Law on August 8, 2012

Five states are suing the federal government claiming that the Environmental Protection Agency rules on chemical dispersants used in oil spills do not meet clean water requirements.

During the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010, nearly 2 million gallons of chemical dispersants were dumped into Gulf waters with little knowledge or research into the chemicals’ toxic impacts. Currently, regulations dictating dispersants eligible for use in oil spills require minimal toxicity testing and no threshold for safety.

Fishing, conservation, wildlife and public health groups based in the Gulf Coast and Alaska have filed a citizen lawsuit under the federal Clean Water Act to force the Environmental Protection Agency to stop dragging its feet and issue new rules for chemical dispersants used on oil spills

The lawsuit was filed Monday, August 6, in Washington, D.C., claiming that the EPA has not published a schedule that identifies where dispersants can be used and how much can be used safely.

“We’re disappointed that the agency doesn’t seem to understand the widespread public urgency to initiate this rulemaking process,” says Jill Mastrototaro, director of the Gulf Coast Protection Campaign for Sierra Club, one of the parties to the suit. “If a spill or blowout happened tomorrow in the Gulf of Mexico, or any U.S. water for that matter, any dispersant that is used would not necessarily be safe for the waters, ecosystems, response workers, or nearby communities.”

The groups say that during the BP Plc-Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010, more than 1.8 million gallons of dispersants were dumped into the Gulf of Mexico with little knowledge of the toxic effect.

The primary dispersants used following the BP disaster were Corexit EC9500A and EC9527A manufactured by Illinois-based Nalco. The official safety data for Corexit EC9527A notes that “excessive exposure may cause central nervous system effects, nausea, vomiting, anesthetic or narcotic effects.” It also says that version of Corexit includes 2-butoxyethanol, warning that “repeated or excessive exposure to butoxyethanol may cause injury to red blood cells (hemolysis), kidney or the liver … Prolonged and/or repeated exposure through inhalation or extensive skin contact with EGBE [butoxyethanol] may result in damage to the blood and kidneys.”

A recent scientific study found that the type of dispersants used in the BP disaster hurt phytoplankton and ciliates, a key link in the marine food chain. Meanwhile, oil that was not treated with dispersants degraded while floating on the water’s surface and thus caused no significant damage to the microorganisms.

EPA spokeswoman Hanady Kader says the agency just received the lawsuit and would have no immediate comment.

Southern Studies
CBS News

Posted by maritime lawyer Gordon, Elias & Seely, LLP