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BP Still Using "Unprecedented" Levels of Toxic Dispersants on Oil Spill

Jun 28, 2010 | Parker Waichman LLP

BP is still being allowed to use high amounts of chemical dispersants in its effort to contain the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, even though the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) told it a month ago to find a less toxic alternative. According to a report in the St. Petersburg Times, those dispersants could be making the oil more toxic, and may be helping to distribute it to a more widespread area.

As we reported previously, BP has been using a line of dispersants called Corexit. Approval for Corexit was rescinded in Britain a decade ago because laboratory tests found them harmful to sea life that inhabits rocky shores. Safety documents for the Corexit chemicals warn that they must be handled with great care in their original form, should not touch the skin and can damage lungs. The documents state that the potential environmental hazard is “moderate,” but “low” when used as directed at sea.

BP’s use of the Corexit line for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill has been called unprecedented. According to The St. Petersburg Times, while it has decreased the total amount used, BP has exceeded the recommended daily level of 15,000 gallons sprayed beneath the surface of the Gulf of Mexico. A total of 1.47 million gallons of dispersant have been applied to the gushing oil so far.

According to the Times, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said last week that her agency will continue allowing dispersant use because “dispersants are one tool in a situation that could not be more urgent.” She acknowledged that using the chemicals was a trade-off.

According to the Times report, federal scientists have now confirmed plumes of tiny oil droplets that stretch for miles underwater. According to one researcher quoted in the article, those droplets are consistent with chemically dispersed oil. Such droplets have also been found in shallower waters. That means the oil can be blown around more easily by wind, spreading it along the Gulf’s biologically rich continental shelf.

No one knows how this will effect the ecology of the Gulf. At a Congressional hearing last week, an expert testified that crustaceans, algae and fish larvae find low concentrations of Corexit toxic. In some cases, the use of the dispersant could make it easier for some marine life to absorb the oil.

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