Lawmakers want to avoid 'Agent Orange' in spill dispersants
BP has sprayed about 1.8 million gallons of the chemical Corexit in the Gulf so far, both undersea and on the surface.
Thu, Jul 15, 2010 at 03:34 PM
HEARING: EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson testifies before the U.S. Senate Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Subcommittee during a hearing to review the use of dispersants in response to the BP oil spill. (Photo: ZUMA Press)
WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. lawmakers on Thursday pressed the Environmental Protection Agency for assurances that BP was using safe agents to disperse its massive oil spill, saying they didn't want the chemicals to become another "Agent Orange."
Lawmakers at a Senate subcommittee hearing called for more in-depth studies on BP's use of chemical dispersants and the impact on ocean life in the Gulf of Mexico.
"I don't want dispersants to be the Agent Orange of this oil spill and I want to be assured on behalf of the American people that this is OK to use and OK to use in the amounts we're talking about," said Barbara Mikulski, chairwoman of the science panel of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee.
BP has sprayed about 1.8 million gallons of the chemical Corexit in the Gulf so far, both undersea and on the surface, the largest amount in U.S. history and for the first time applying the dispersant directly to the source of oil spill.
Nalco Holding Co, which makes Corexit, says its dispersants are biodegradable and safe for the aquatic life.
But some critics are worried that the dispersant could be causing more harm than good as BP battles the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history. Agent Orange was a widely criticized herbicide used by the U.S. military during the Vietnam War to strip foliage that served as enemy cover. Exposure to the chemical was found to cause an array of diseases.
Early results of a federal review of Corexit showed it had no impact on marine life, but more scientific study was needed, said U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson.
"The good news is that we've not seen signs of environment impacts from the use of dispersants so far," she told legislators.
But the EPA is still awaiting review of chemical's effect when mixed with oil, and environmentalists are also concerned.
"I suspect that the toxicity impact will in fact be way worse than reflected by the tests that are being conducted by EPA," because animals chosen for testing are less sensitive than those inhabiting the Gulf, said Doug Rader, chief oceans scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund.
Mikulski, a Democrat, also called on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to present information in a week on dispersants used in Europe. She said "it gave her heartburn" to discover that Britain had banned oil dispersants.
BP's use of dispersants to break up the gushing oil into smaller particles has declined by 72 percent, according to Jackson. The EPA directed the energy giant to cut use by 75 percent.
"But none of that replaces the fact that we need more information," Jackson said.
Environmental groups have pointed out BP's slow reaction to the federal instructions and its continued spraying of the sea surface with chemicals against a EPA directive, possibly creating health risks not only for the marine life but for the people and workers in the area.
"Given the lack of information about dispersants, there should be no assurances of safety by any party, especially the EPA, NOAA, other government bodies or BP," said Anne Rolfes, director of the environmental group, Louisiana Bucket Brigade.
Scientists worry the undersea clouds of dissolved oil may poison small sea creatures and make their way up the food chain.
"The sea turtles and marine birds and marine animals are just the tip of the dead animal iceberg caused by oil pollution that may well turn out to be greatly exacerbated by the use of dispersants," Rader said in her written testimony.
(Reporting by Alina Selyukh; Editing by Frances Kerry)
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