Lawsuit Seeks Full Disclosure of Dispersant Impacts on Gulf’s Endangered Wildlife

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CommonDreams.org

Lawsuit Seeks Full Disclosure of Dispersant Impacts on Gulf’s Endangered Wildlife

by
Center for Biological Diversity

An Air Force plane drops an oil-dispersing chemical into the Gulf of Mexico as part of the Deepwater Horizon Response effort. In theory, chemical dispersants allow the oil to be eaten by microorganisms and become diluted faster than it would otherwise. However, the effects of using large quantities of highly toxic dispersants and injecting them into very deep water, as BP has done in the Gulf of Mexico, have never been studied. (Photo: Technical Sergeant Adrian Cadiz)

SAN FRANCISCO - The Center for Biological Diversity today
filed an official notice of its intent to sue the Environmental
Protection Agency for authorizing the use of toxic dispersants without
ensuring that these chemicals would not harm endangered species and
their habitats. The letter requests that the agency, along with the U.S.
Coast Guard, immediately study the effects of dispersants on species
such as sea turtles, sperm whales, piping plovers, and corals and
incorporate this knowledge into oil-spill response efforts.

"The
Gulf of Mexico has become Frankenstein's laboratory for BP's enormous,
uncontrolled experiment in flooding the ocean with toxic chemicals,"
said Andrea Treece, an attorney with the Center for Biological
Diversity. "The fact that no one in the federal government ever required
that these chemicals be proven safe for this sort of use before they
were set loose on the environment is inexcusable."

Dispersants are
chemicals used to break oil spills into tiny droplets. In theory, this
allows the oil to be eaten by microorganisms and become diluted faster
than it would otherwise. However, the effects of using large quantities
of dispersants and injecting them into very deep water, as BP has done
in the Gulf of Mexico, have never been studied. Researchers suspect that
underwater oil plumes, measuring as much as 20 miles long and extending
dozens of miles from the leaking rig, are the result of dispersants
keeping the oil below the surface.

On May 24, EPA Administrator
Jackson expressed concern over the environmental unknowns of
dispersants, which include the long-term effects on aquatic life.
Nonetheless, the federal government has allowed BP to pump nearly 1
million gallons of dispersants into the Gulf of Mexico.

"Pouring
dispersants into vital fish nursery grounds and endangered species
habitat simply trades one evil for another. Had the government first
examined dispersants before the disaster, we would not be left wondering
what sort of havoc BP is wreaking on the ecosystem just so it can make
the oil less visible," added Treece. "We cannot and will not allow this
to happen again."

Studies have found that oil dispersed by
Corexit 9527 damages the insulating properties of seabird feathers more
than untreated oil, making the birds more susceptible to hypothermia and
death. Studies have also found that dispersed oil is toxic to fish
eggs, larvae, and adults, as well as to corals, and can harm sea
turtles' ability to breathe and digest food. Formulations of the
dispersants being used by BP, Corexit 9500 and 9527, have been banned in
the United Kingdom due to concerns over their impacts on the marine
environment.

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