A year after the BP Gulf oil disaster and under pressure from environmental groups, the EPA finally released a list of the chemical components in oil dispersants. The federal agency also disclosed health and safety information about the chemical components that were previously withheld from the public as “confidential business information.” The potential health and environmental effects of the unprecedented use of dispersants in the Gulf of Mexico, both in volume and the underwater application, however, remain unknown.
EPA released a list of the 57 ingredients in all of the dispersants eligible for use in oil spills and identified the specific ingredients of some of them—in particular, Dispersit, Mare Clean, and COREXIT 9500 and COREXIT 9527, which were used in response to the oil disaster in the Gulf. The 57 ingredients were part of a larger list of 150 chemicals made public by EPA, which also included components found in consumer products.
The new chemical dispersant data was released as a result of a lawsuit filed in July of 2010 on behalf of Florida Wildlife Federation and Gulf Restoration Network, represented by Earthjustice. However, EPA continues to withhold the identity of specific ingredients found in most of the dispersants that are eligible for use in response to oil spills.
“This disclosure was long overdue,” said Earthjustice attorney Marianne Engelman Lado. “These dispersants were used in massive quantities, nearly 2 million gallons, exposing workers, community residents, and wildlife to toxic chemicals, without adequate information about whether they were adding injury to the already tragic circumstances.”
In July of 2010, Earthjustice filed a lawsuit in federal court on behalf of Gulf Restoration Network and the Florida Wildlife Federation to force EPA to release health and safety information related to dispersants.
“The public has a right to know what the dispersants being used in the Gulf will do to the Gulf—and to its wildlife,” said Manley Fuller of the Florida Wildlife Federation.
“It is just bad policy to pre-approve the use of chemicals when we have very little understanding for their short-term and long-term toxicity,” said Casey DeMoss Roberts of the Gulf Restoration Network.
Earthjustice attorneys are also monitoring progress made by the EPA to strengthen regulation of dispersants. In a separate petition to the EPA, groups in the oil producing regions, represented by Earthjustice, have asked the EPA to significantly improve the way dispersants are tested and approved.
“The EPA has been sitting on this crucial information about what is in dispersants and their toxicity, and they continue to withhold information—such as the identity of specific ingredients in individual dispersant products—that would be extremely helpful to healthcare providers and response workers in future oil spills,” said Engelman Lado of Earthjustice.
The groups asked that the EPA require disclosure of dispersant ingredients when warranted to ensure protection of human health and the environment and would give EPA much-needed authority to better control dispersant use. The Chemical Dispersant Safety Act, introduced by Senator Frank Lautenberg, would also require the EPA to take strong action to regulate dispersants.