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How Toxic are Oil Dispersants? Groups Press EPA to Find Out Before Next Spill

Shrimpers, community groups petition agency for info, clear rules before OK’ing future use


Gulf coast shrimpers and affected community groups from Alaska to
Louisiana to Florida pressed the federal government today to better
regulate dispersants -- the chemicals that oil companies routinely use
to break up oil slicks on water - before these chemicals are used in
future spill cleanups.

The non-profit environmental law firm Earthjustice filed a petition
(PDF) on behalf of the Louisiana Shrimp Association, Florida Wildlife
Federation, Gulf Restoration Network, the Alaska-based Cook Inletkeeper,
Alaska Community Action on Toxics, Waterkeeper and Sierra Club asking
the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to write rules that would
set out exactly how and when dispersants could be used in the future.

The move comes just one day after the Obama administration announced it was lifting a moratorium on Gulf Coast oil drilling.

"Unprecedented use of toxic dispersants during the BP Deepwater Horizon
Disaster without prior scientific study and evaluation on the effect to
Gulf of Mexico marine ecosystems and human health was a horrific mistake
that should never have been allowed to happen," said Clint Guidry of
the Louisiana Shrimp Association. "Potential ecosystem collapse caused
by toxic dispersant use during this disaster will have immediate and
long term effects on the Gulf's traditional fishing communities'
ability to sustain our culture and heritage."

The groups are also calling on the EPA to require dispersant makers both
to disclose the ingredients of their products and to better test and
report the toxicity of those products.

"Industry executives would like us to think that dispersants are some
kind of fairy dust that magically removes oil from water," said
Earthjustice attorney Marianne Engelman Lado. "The fact is we have very
little idea how toxic dispersants are, what quantities are safe to use
or their long term effects on everything from people who work with the
chemicals to coral in the water. We have little information about their
long-term impact on life in the Gulf, or even whether the mix of oil and
dispersants is more harmful than oil alone."

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson herself has raised concerns about this
lack of information, calling for more data and better testing of
dispersants so that officials don't have to make "judgment calls on the

"We need to make sure that we understand the full effects of dispersants
on the environment and human health," said Florida Wildlife Federation
President Manley Fuller. "And when dispersants are used, we need to be
sure they are as safe as possible."

The groups' petition comes on the heels of a draft report issued last
week by the federal Oil Spill Commission that acknowledged that federal
agencies were unprepared for the tough decisions they faced over whether
to allow some 1.84 million gallons of chemical dispersants to be dumped
in the Gulf of Mexico during the record-breaking BP Deepwater Horizon
spill. The requested rules would ensure the agency never again be forced
to make such decisions without sufficient information and guidelines.

"Never again should the oil industry be allowed to dump hundreds of
thousands of gallons of dispersant into the sea as their preferred
method of response to an oil spill," said Cynthia Sarthou, of the Gulf
Restoration Network. "Because so little is currently known by EPA -- or
anyone else for that matter -- about the long-term impact to fish and
wildlife, the use of dispersants is a dangerous and potentially
devastating experiment."

The summer's 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 Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska reported health problems --
including blood in their urine and kidney and liver disorders --
believed to have been linked to dispersant exposure.

"In Alaska, we have witnessed the long-term adverse health consequences
of the use of dispersants on the health of cleanup workers," said Pamela
Miller, Executive Director of Alaska Community Action on Toxics. "The
indiscriminate use of toxic dispersants also threatens the health of
subsistence and commercial fisheries that are essential to the culture
and economy of Alaska."

"Oil corporations in Alaska now reach for dispersants as one of their
first tools for oil spill response," said Cook Inletkeeper Bob
Shavelson. "Countless Alaskans rely on our wild, healthy fisheries, and
we have a right to know about the toxic dispersants used in our

The group also filed a 60-day-notice of intent to file a lawsuit (PDF)
prodding the agency to provide information long required by the Clean
Water Act identifying exactly where dispersants may be used and how much
is safe.

"The largely unregulated use of dispersants is another example in the
all-too-long list of ways that oil, coal and gas industries act with an
open distain for environmental and human health," stated Scott Edwards,
Director of Advocacy for Waterkeeper Alliance. "Coal companies dumping
mine waste in our streams, gas extractors injecting harmful chemicals in
our drinking water and the oil industry poisoning our coastal
communities first with oil and now with untested dispersants all point
to one thing - it's time to end our irresponsible addiction to harmful
fossil fuels and move onto cleaner, renewable energy sources."

The Clean Water Act requirements have been in place for decades, but
administration after administration has failed to comply with the law,
and there was scant data available to EPA officials when they were
confronted with the devastating Gulf Coast spill this summer.

"The BP oil disaster painfully showed just how little is known about
these chemicals. We should not be gambling with the health of our
coastal waters or the people who make their life from them. If
dispersants are going to be part of the toolbox for responding to future
emergencies, we need to be certain they're not doing more harm than
good. We call on EPA to pledge that never again will oil spill response
turn into an uncontrolled experiment in our nation's waters," said
Sierra Club Louisiana Representative Jill Mastrototaro.


Background Material:
To see the petition filed pressing EPA to establish new rules requiring
dispersant manufacturers to reveal the toxicity and ingredients of their
projects see:

To see the 60-day notice of intent to sue over long required Clean Water Act requirements, please visit:

To view the federal Oil Spill Commission report, please visit:

Marianne Engelman Lado, Earthjustice, (212) 791-1881, ext. 228, (917)
Clint Guidry, Louisiana Shrimp Association, (504) 952-4368
Cynthia Sarthou, Gulf Restoration Network, (504) 525-1528 ext 202,
Manley Fuller, Florida Wildlife Federation,
Bob Shavelson, Cook Inletkeeper, (907) 235-4068, ext. 22, 907.299.3277 (cell)
Pamela K. Miller, Alaska Community Action on Toxics,
Scott Edwards, Waterkeeper, (914) 674-0622, ext. 13,
Kristina Johnson, Sierra Club (415) 977-5619

Earthjustice is a non-profit public interest law firm dedicated to protecting the magnificent places, natural resources, and wildlife of this earth, and to defending the right of all people to a healthy environment. We bring about far-reaching change by enforcing and strengthening environmental laws on behalf of hundreds of organizations, coalitions and communities.