EPA Orders BP to Change Chemical Dispersant in GOM

WASHINGTON (Dow Jones Newswires), May 20, 2010

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said Thursday it has ordered BP to use a different chemical dispersant to break up oil gushing out of a broken underground pipe in the Gulf of Mexico.

BP has been using a dispersant called Corexit, made by Nalco. The EPA authorized BP to use Corexit last week, but EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson had said that she was pushing the company to consider other dispersants that might be less harmful.

Under the directive, BP has 24 hours to identify a "less toxic" alternative-- to be used both at the surface and under water. The company must begin using the alternative within 72 hours of submitting the new chemical for review. If BP cannot identify an alternative, it must provide a detailed description of which chemicals were considered and why they did not meet the required standards.

Dispersants are traditionally used to break up oil slicks on the sea surface. The risks of underwater use over long periods of time are unknown. Initial testing of Corexit on small fish, conducted earlier this week, produced survival rates of 80% to 90%, the EPA chief told reporters Wednesday, but those tests don't measure long-term effects.

EPA spokeswoman Adora Andy confirmed that the agency ordered a switch. She said more details would come later. The EPA's decision was announced earlier by Rep. Ed Markey (D., Mass.), who has been warning that the release of large volumes of chemicals into the Gulf could be an "aggressive experiment."

The EPA has said that BP was considering Sea Brat 4, another chemical dispersant, as an alternative. The manufacturer of Sea Brat 4, Alabaster Corp. of Pasadena, Texas, said Wednesday that BP had ordered about 100,000 gallons. A BP spokesman said he didn't immediately know whether the EPA had ordered a switch. The chemical used at present is a version called Corexit 9500.

Last week, the EPA and the Coast Guard authorized chemical dispersants to be used undersea, saying that dispersants are generally less harmful than the "highly toxic oil leaking from the source." Officials have said that the government was put into an impossible situation of choosing between the shores and the seas.

BP's choice of Corexit came under heavy fire on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, where Democratic lawmakers questioned the use of the chemical and said that other dispersants on a government-approved list would be more effective and less harmful. Markey warned Monday that "the release of hundreds of thousands of gallons of chemicals into the Gulf of Mexico could be an unprecedented, large and aggressive experiment on our oceans."

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