WASHINGTON (AFP) - The US government Thursday ordered BP to use a less toxic dispersant on the expanding Gulf of Mexico oil slick, as fears mount over the scale of the environmental disaster off the southern coast.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) gave the British oil giant 24 hours to identify a new dispersant and a further 72 hours to start using it to break up the slick.
"If BP is unable to identify available alternative dispersant products, BP must provide the Coast Guard and EPA with a detailed description of the alternative dispersants investigated, and the reason they believe those products did not meet the required standards," the agency said in a statement.
The dispersant being used by BP on and under the water in the area of the ruptured Gulf oil well is currently on a US government approved list, but the EPA expressed concern about its use in "unprecedented volumes."
"We reserve the right to discontinue the use of this dispersant method if any negative impacts on the environment outweigh the benefits," EPA said in a statement.
The Washington Post earlier reported that BP had been using two types of dispersants, called Corexit 9500A and Corexit 9527A, with 600,000 gallons used on the surface and 55,000 underwater.
On Friday, US officials approved the use of the controversial subsea chemical dispersants after a team of experts analyzed the results of three tests of their use.
"This was not a decision that was made lightly," said US Coast Guard Rear Admiral Mary Landry.
The dispersant effort is meant to break down the oil so that, over time, the slick is reduced to smaller particles that biodegrade instead of being left as chunky, thick globs that can choke both wildlife and vegetation.
But environmentalists, scientists and fisherman have raised concerns that the dispersants could be creating a toxic soup in critical habitats and simply shifting the damage from the oil out of sight.