The Gulf Restoration Network, Florida Wildlife Federation, and Earthjustice filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the federal government today seeking information about the chemical dispersants being used to break up the oil gushing from the Gulf oil leak. Chemical dispersants are being used in the Gulf in unprecedented amounts and have essentially turned the Gulf ecosystem into a testing laboratory for both the immediate and long-term effects of their massive use.
The FOIA seeks the identities of all chemical ingredients in the dispersants eligible for use in the Gulf spill. It also seeks all health and safety studies and data and potential adverse effects reports for the chemical ingredients in the dispersants and unredacted correspondence between BP and EPA about dispersants in connection with the Deepwater Horizon spill.
The Environmental Protection Agency has made significant data about the dispersants available to the public on its website. British Petroleum, however, has been less forthcoming, and a legacy of secrecy surrounding toxic chemicals and their health effects has impeded public access to much critical information.
"This FOIA request seeks to give the public essential information needed to understand the impacts of this experiment and protect Gulf resources from more devastating damage," said Cynthia Sarthou, Executive Director of the Gulf Restoration Network.
"The public has a right to know what the 800,000 gallons of dispersants being used in the Gulf will do to the Gulf," said Manley Fuller of the Florida Wildlife Federation.
The groups are calling on EPA to exercise its authority to make the information public over the objections of BP and the dispersant manufacturers, which would prefer to keep the information secret.
"EPA has the authority, although rarely if ever used, to overrule industry’s pleas for secrecy to prevent risks to people’s health and the environment," said Patti Goldman with Earthjustice. "If ever there were a time to use this authority, 800,000 gallons of chemical dispersants poured into the Gulf in a little over a month is the time."
The FOIA request should lead to greater public disclosure of the toxicity and effects of chemical dispersants being used or available for use in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster. It should also help the public understand what types of monitoring work will need to be done by the federal government, academic researchers, and spill response and cleanup enterprises.
Once the full suite of ingredients that have been used in the Gulf spill is disclosed, researchers can design sampling to detect the ingredients (even those that are not toxic but may be readily sampled as markers) to ascertain how far the dispersants have traveled and the extent to which they have remained present or accumulated in fish, birds, plants, soils, and the overall ecosystem.
The FOIA request follows a letter given to a White House official by the Gulf Restoration Network earlier this week asking for an end to the application of dispersants.
Read the FOIA Request (PDF)