Environmental Groups Seek Ruling on Chemical Oil Dispersants

A coalition of conservation, wildlife and public health groups from the U.S. Gulf of Mexico and Alaska are seeking to compel the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to issue a rule on chemical oil dispersants, saying the EPA's existing rules don't fulfill the requirements mandated by the Clean Water Act.

According to the coalition, nearly 2 million gallons of chemical dispersants were dumped into the Gulf of Mexico to address the Deepwater Horizon incident in April 2010 "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.

The Clean Water Act requires the EPA to identify the waters in which dispersants and other spill mitigating devices and substances may be used, and what quantities can be used safely in the identified waters, as part of EPA's responsibilities for preparing and publishing the National Contingency Plan.

In October 2010, the coalition sent EPA a notice of intent to sue following the Deepwater Horizon incident. Over 5,000 petitions have also been sent by residents across the Gulf Coast region asking EPA to create a new rule to ensure that dispersants will be used safely in the next disaster.

"The Clean Water Act requirements have been in place for decades, but administration after administration has failed to comply with the law," said Cyn Sarthou, executive director of Gulf Restoration Network, in a statement. "Consequently, there was little data available to EPA officials when they were confronted with the devastating BP oil disaster."

"We're disappointed that the agency doesn't seem to understand the widespread public urgency to initiate this rulemaking process," said Jill Mastrototaro, Sierra Club Gulf Coast Protection Campaign Director, in a statement.

"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," Mastrototaro commented.

Environmental law firm Earthjustice filed the suit on behalf of the coalition, which includes the Sierra Club, Louisiana Shrimp Association, Florida Wildlife Federation, Gulf Restoration Network, Louisiana Environmental Action Network, Alaska-based Cook Inletkeeper, Alaska Community Action on Toxics, and Waterkeeper Alliance.

A recent study on the possible effects of the 2010 BP oil spill indicates dispersants may have killed plankton and disrupted the food chain in the Gulf of Mexico, the Associated Press reported late last month.


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