Groups Urge EPA to Set Toxicity Criteria for the Approval of Dispersants Used in Response to Oil Spills
October 18, 2010
In an effort to protect communities, wildlife and U.S. waters, Sierra Club and a broad coalition of community and other environmental groups filed a petition urging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to better regulate dispersants – the chemicals that oil companies routinely use to break up oil slicks on water. The petition, filed on October 13, requests that EPA write rules that prioritize toxicity when determining how and when dispersants can be used in responding to future spills. The groups are also calling on EPA to require dispersant manufacturers to disclose the ingredients of their products.
The groups’ petition comes on the heels of a draft report issued in early October by the federal Oil Spill Commission that acknowledged that federal agencies were unprepared for the tough decisions they faced when determining whether to allow BP to use dispersants in response to the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion, which unleashed more than 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. Ultimately, the agency allowed for the application of an unprecedented 1.84 million gallons of chemical dispersants without information about the short and long-term impacts on wildlife and ecosystems. The requested rules would ensure the agency never again be forced to make such decisions without sufficient information and guidelines.
The catastrophe in the Gulf is not the first time the use of chemical dispersants has come under fire. Workers involved in the cleanup of the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska reported health problems - including blood in their urine and kidney and liver disorders - believed to have been linked to exposure to dispersants used to break down the oil. Yet, no administration since has taken a hard look at these impacts or tightened regulations surrounding dispersant use.
Unfortunately, scant data was available to EPA officials when they were confronted with the devastating Gulf Coast spill last spring. Existing regulations addressing dispersant use were written in the mid-1990s and fail to consider toxicity before approving dispersant use; instead, dispersant approval is determined solely on the basis of effectiveness. Moreover, the regulations require minimal toxicity testing by the manufacturers. The petition requests EPA to conduct expanded research on the toxicity of dispersants and dispersant/oil mixtures on a broad range of ecosystems and species at critical life stages, and to establish toxicity-based criteria for approving dispersant use. In addition, the petition requests EPA to require manufacturers to disclose all chemical ingredients in dispersants.
Sierra Club and its allies also sent the EPA a notice of intent to sue for failing to satisfy its duty, under the Clean Water Act, to identify the waters in which dispersants can be used and the quantities at which dispersants can be applied safely. The Clean Water Act requirements have been in place for decades, but administration after administration has failed to comply with the law. EPA has 60 days to respond to the notice letter before the groups can file a lawsuit.
Earthjustice filed the petition and notice letter on behalf of Sierra Club, the Louisiana Shrimp Association, Florida Wildlife Federation, Gulf Restoration Network, the Alaska-based Cook Inletkeeper, Alaska Community Action on Toxics, and Waterkeeper Alliance.
Details and Documents:
How Toxic are Oil Dispersants? Groups Press EPA to Find Out Before Next Spill
October 13, 2010, Earthjustice et al. Press Release
Earthjustice et al. Petition to EPA
October 13, 2010
Earthjustice et al. 60-Day Notice Letter to EPA
October 13, 2010
See other "Safeguarding Communities" cases.