A report released today states that five of the 57 ingredients in dispersants eligible for use in response to oil spills are linked to cancer. Dispersants are used to clean up oil spills and contain chemicals that break up oil into smaller droplets and move the oil from the surface of the water into the water column. The report presents the findings of research on the potential effects of the oil dispersants and their chemical ingredients on humans and the environment and calls for additional toxicity testing of these chemicals and the dispersants and more careful selection of dispersants in response to oil spills.
The report “The Chaos of Clean-Up: Analysis of Potential Health and Environmental Impacts of Chemicals in Dispersant Products” highlights the fact that some dispersants are safer than others.
The report from Earthjustice, an environmental law firm, along with Toxipedia Consulting Services, is based on material released by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in response to a Freedom of Information Act request made by Earthjustice on behalf of the Gulf Restoration Network and the Florida Wildlife Federation.
Earthjustice went to court to obtain the ingredients of dispersants eligible for use; health and safety studies on the chemicals in dispersants; the application materials and toxicity testing results submitted to EPA by dispersant manufacturers seeking to obtain eligibility status for their dispersant; and correspondence between EPA and BP about the selection of an appropriate dispersant during the Deepwater Horizon disaster. All of these materials are now available at Toxipedia.org.
“The testing can’t be done in the moment of the disaster,” said Marianne Engelman Lado. “It has to be done ahead of time to avoid the chaos we witnessed during the disaster response to the Deepwater Horizon disaster.”
“The goal here is, when dispersant use is required, we use the least toxic dispersants that are appropriate to that specific spill condition,” said Manley Fuller of the Florida Wilderness Federation. “To do that, we need to know the ingredients and they need to be tested in field conditions.”
Gulf residents continue to suffer health effects related to the disaster clean-up. “The illnesses we observed were quite unique and different from anything that I had ever witnessed before,” said Dr. Michael Robichaux, a physician in Raceland, Louisiana.
“Although there were scores of complaints early on, the main problems at this time are a loss of memory, seizure type problems, severe abdominal pain, fatigue, irritability and other neurological and endocrine manifestations.”
“Despite ongoing concerns from the public about the toxicity of listed dispersants and their impacts upon the environment, the EPA continues to protect the dispersant manufacturers, who want to keep the ingredients of their products secret,” said Cyn Sarthou, Executive Director of the Gulf Restoration Network. “As a result, choices between dispersants are not being made publicly and without full knowledge of their impacts.”
Toxipedia.org has made information on the chemicals accessible to the public for the first time through its website at http://toxipedia.org/display/toxipedia/Oil+Dispersant.