SAN FRANCISCO— The Environmental Protection Agency today proposed a series of important steps to protect people, wildlife and the environment from chemical dispersants used to break apart oil after an oil spill. The rules, if enacted, would place new limits on the use of dispersants and require better testing and monitoring of the safety and efficacy of these products.
“Oil spills are bad, but often these dispersants make the problem worse, adding an extra layer of toxic chemicals that hurt wildlife and put people at risk,” said Miyoko Sakashita, director of the Oceans program at the Center for Biological Diversity. “We’re glad to see the EPA taking this problem seriously and pushing ahead with these changes.”
The proposal comes nearly five years after the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, the nation’s largest oil spill. More than 2 million gallons were used in the Deepwater Horizon response. Yet the effects of using such large quantities of dispersants and injecting them into very deep water, as BP did in the Gulf of Mexico, have never been studied; scientists believe it may be linked to the spread of underwater plumes of oil.
The Center and other environmental groups sued the EPA and the U.S. Coast Guard in 2012 for authorizing toxic oil dispersants without ensuring these chemicals would not harm endangered species — including whales, sea turtles and salmon — or their habitats.
“One of the most eye-opening lessons of the Deepwater Horizon disaster was just how reliant these spill-response plans were on the use of dispersants and how little we knew about them,” Sakashita said. “We’ve got to step back and fully understand what happens when we release these chemicals into our waters. Otherwise we’re just adding insult to injury during an oil spill.”
Among the most important proposals from the EPA are:
- Heightened requirements for testing ecological toxicity and efficacy of dispersants
- Better safeguards for human health and disclosure of information about dispersants
- Monitoring and reporting on the use and effects of dispersants
- Periodic review and revision of oil-spill response plans to ensure environmental protection.