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Are Oil Dispersants, Like, Magic? Or Toxic?

We want to know. Preferably before the next oil spill

Yesterday, Interior Secretary Ken Salazer lifted the moratorium on deepwater oil drilling and declared the Gulf of Mexico "open for business."

We presume he was talking to the folks at BP, Exxon, and Shell—not so much to shrimp fishermen like Clint Guidry.

Like his father and grandfather before him, the 62-year-old Guidry has worked in Louisiana's shrimp industry for most of his adult life. But he simply doesn't know what the future holds for the family business.

A lot depends on the chemicals used as so-called dispersants in the wake of the BP Deepwater Horizon spill this summer. Did the 1.8 million gallons of chemicals dumped into the Gulf of Mexico send toxic-coated oil droplets tumbling from the water's surface and into the same areas of the ocean where Guidry's catch feed and spawn? Will it make the ocean creatures sick? What about the people who eat Gulf-caught fish?

Guidry, who also heads the Louisiana Shrimp Association, has a lot of questions. So do the folks up in Alaska—including the Cook Inletkeeper and Alaska Community Action on Toxics—who remember none too fondly the harsh chemicals dumped into their waters, sickening workers cleaning up the Exxon Valdez spill.

That's why Earthjustice attorney Marianne Engelman Lado filed a petition today on the groups' behalf asking the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to press industry for a list of what chemicals are in dispersants and how dangerous they are. The petition, also representing the Florida Wildlife Federation, Gulf Restoration Network, Waterkeeper and Sierra Club, asked the agency to write rules spelling out exactly how and when dispersants could be used in the future. And, just for good measure, she also filed a 60-day notice of intent to sue (PDF) over information long required under the Clean Water Act that identifies exactly where dispersants may be used and how much is safe.

The efforts come not a moment too soon. With the time-out on deepwater drilling officially called off, it seems only a matter of time before the oil industry makes another mess. Before the oil executives reach for chemical dispersants as their preferred cleanup/PR tool, officials need to know the true cost to the health of our waters, wildlife, and families.
 

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