EPA faces lawsuit over dispersant use in Gulf oil spill

Coast Guard vessels try to extinguish the burning Deepwater Horizon drilling rig. PHOTO COURTESY U.S. COAST GUARD.

Environmental group wants feds to study and disclose impacts of dispersants, as marine biologists continue to document an unusually high number of dead whales and dolphins in the northern Gulf of Mexico

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — One year after the deadly Deepwater Horizon oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, the EPA is facing a potential lawsuit over the widespread use of chemical oil dispersants.

The Center for Biological Diversity filed an official notice of its intent to sue the Environmental Protection Agency for authorizing the use of the dispersants without ensuring that these chemicals would not harm endangered species or their habitats.

According to the Center for Biological Diversity, the EPA must pre-approve the use of chemical dispersants in the event of an oil spill, but has not taken steps to ensure that the use of these chemicals will not jeopardize endangered wildlife. The Center’s notice requests that the agency immediately study the effects of dispersants on endangered and threatened species such as sea turtles, endangered whales, piping plovers and corals.

“The Gulf of Mexico disaster was a wake-up call about the inadequacy of current oil-spill response technology,” said Deirdre McDonnell, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Before the next spill happens, the government needs to ensure that these dispersants don’t do more harm than good to threatened and endangered species.”

About 1.84 million gallons of dispersant were used to treat the oil spewing from BP’s busted well, including about 770,000 gallons used deep in the ocean. Here’s an excerpt from the official notice of intent to sue:

“These dispersants are known to or likely to adversely affect multiple threatened and endangered species, including loggerhead, leatherback, Kemp’s ridley, hawksbill, olive ridley, and green sea turtles; multiple whales including sperm, blue, fin, gray humpback, bowhead, North Atlantic and Pacific Right, and sei whales; other marine mammals including Steller’s sea lion, sea otters, Hawaiian monk seal, spotted seal and polar bear; many marine and anadramous fish species including Atlantic salmon, several species of pacific salmon, green sturgeon, Pacific eulachon and Gulf sturgeon, smalltooth sawfish, and many sea birds and coastal birds such as short-tailed albatross, Western snowy plover, piping plover, and Steller’s and spectacled eiders.”

Read the entire notice here.

Unable to stem the oil flow from the busted well, more than 2 million gallons of toxic dispersants were dumped into the Gulf after the BP spill began in April 2010.

A year later, federal marine biologists are still reporting an unusually high number of dead marine mammals that may be linked to the oil spill. Between Nov. 3, 2010, and April 17, 2011, the federal government reported 207 stranded whales and dolphins in the northern Gulf of Mexico, far higher than the average number. And that tally only reflects the marine mammals that are found on the shore. Many more likely have died without ever being found. Click here to get details on what the National Marine Fisheries Service calls “unusual mortality events in the Gulf.” An FAQ page gives some context to these numbers.

Jan Feb Mar Apl May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Average (2002-2009) 6.6 6.9 17.9 11.5 5.1 3.6 4.1 3.5 4.0 4.0 2.6 3.8
2010 Total 5 11 62 40 35 29 10 19 17 5 11 12
2011 24 63 73 24

Dispersants are chemicals used to break oil spills into tiny droplets. In theory, this allows the oil to be eaten by microorganisms and become diluted faster than it would if left untreated. However, dispersants and dispersed oil can also allow toxins to accumulate in the marine food web. The effects of using 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.

Now, one year after the Gulf spill began, the same dispersants remain approved for oil-spill response, and we know little more than we did then about their effect on wildlife. The Center intends to file a lawsuit unless the EPA complies with the Endangered Species Act, which requires that it examine the impacts of these toxins on endangered wildlife and consult with the National Marine Fisheries Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“From Santa Barbara to Exxon Valdez to the Deepwater Horizon, we’ve seen the destruction that oil spills leave in their wake,” said McDonnell. “We shouldn’t add insult to injury by using dispersants that could have long-term effects on species already fighting for survival.”

Studies have found that oil broken apart by the dispersant Corexit 9527 damages the insulating properties of seabird feathers more than untreated oil, making the birds more susceptible to hypothermia and death. Studies have also found that dispersed oil is toxic to fish eggs, larvae and adults, as well as to corals, and can harm sea turtles’ ability to breathe and digest food. Formulations of the dispersants being used by BP, Corexit 9500 and 9527, have been banned in the United Kingdom due to concerns over their impacts on the marine environment.

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3 thoughts on “EPA faces lawsuit over dispersant use in Gulf oil spill

  1. Record numbers of the critically endangered North Atlantic Right Whales have appeared off of Cape Cod, close enough to be seen from shore. About half of that whale population is there right now. Secretary of the Interior Kenneth Salazar is trying to push through Cape Wind to be built offshore of Cape Cod, despite knowing this is vital habitat to these creatures. Please let Mr. Salazar know that these waters must never be used for industrial wind farms.

  2. Oil Spill Eater II There was a non toxic Alternative to clean up the spill that has been successfully tested by BP after 10 months of spill damages. The Coast Guard sent a letter from headquarters stating to the FOSC to take action with OSE II, and the EPA, Lisa Jackson stopped the Coast Guard from allowing BP from implementing OSE II. In fact the EPA stopped the application of OSE II 11 times denying State Senators direct request for use of OSE II from Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. La Department of environmental requested the use of OSE II as well, EPA’s Sam Coleman denied their request without reason. Governor Jindal tried to get OSE II demonstrated on the Chandelier Islands on May 6, 2010, and the EPA stopped the Governor as well. The EPA in fact stopped the use of OSE II 11 times, without a reason given. Had the EPA allowed Governor Jindal to allow the demonstration of OSE II on May 6, 2010, it is possible a significant portion of the environmental damages, including the shorelines and the seafood industry would have been spared. The toxicty test comparison between OSE II and corexit really cannot be compared since with corexit, the label states it can cause red blood cells to burst, kidney, and liver problems if a chemical suit and respirator are not worn. OSE II in contrast can be used to wash your hands and is non toxic. The BP Deep Horizon spill has proven that corexit only sinks oil and causes the same oil to be addressed a second time when it comes ashore as under water plumes, or tar balls, while OSE II has a substantiated end point of converting oil to CO2 and water. See Coast Guard letter below

    U. S. Department
    of Homeland Security
    United States
    Coast Guard

    Commanding Officer 1 Chelsea Street
    U. S. Coast Guard New London, CT 06320
    Research and Development Center Staff Symbol: Contracting Office
    Phone: (860) 271-2807

    July 10, 2010

    OSEI Corporation
    P.O. Box 515429
    Dallas, TX 75251

    Attn: Steven Pedigo, President/Owner

    DEEPWATER HORIZON RESPONSE BAA HSCG32-10-R-R00019, TRACKING #2003954

    We are pleased to inform you that the initial screening of your White Paper submitted under Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) HSCG32-10-R-R00019 has been completed. It has been determined that your White Paper submission has a potential for benefit to the spill response effort.

    Your White Paper has been forwarded to the Deepwater Horizon Response Federal On-Scene Coordinator (FOSC) for further action under its authority. Subject to the constraints and needs of the ongoing oil spill response, you may be contacted by the FOSC or the responsible party.

    We appreciate your interest in supporting the Deepwater Horizon Response effort.

    Contracting Officer /s/
    USCG R&D Center

  3. Oil Spill Eater II
    Testing of OSE II by Dr. Tsao of British Petroleum
    David Tsao, Ph.D
    BioChem Strike Team Leader; Deepwater Horizon

    Regarding the Effectiveness of OSE II Remediating Oil from Deepwater Horizon, Blow Out, Gulf of Mexico
    The major oil company British Petroleum tested OSEI Corporation’s product called Oil Spill Eater II (OSE II) at Louisiana State University from November 2010 through January 2011. Relevant sections of BP’s BCST (Bio Chem Strike Team) test results and summary “interim report” are attached.
    British Petroleum formed a group named the Bio Chem Strike Team (BCST). Under the direction of Dr. Tsao, BCST was established in response to the Deepwater Horizon incident by the Alternative Response Technology (ART) program. The BCST consisted of experts from BP, LSU, LDEQ (Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality), USCG (U.S. Coast Guard), OSPR (California), SCAT, and highly experienced oil spill response consultants. Furthermore, BCST operated in conjunction with advice from EPA and NOAA.
    OSE II was then slated for testing and the tests were started in November of 2010, and concluded in January of 2011. The tests were very thorough and measured several pertinent aspects in regards to remediating hydrocarbons/oil. The tests were conducted with Gas Chromatograph Mass Spectrometry EPA test procedures. Bacteria counts, as well as dissolved oxygen, nitrogen, and phosphorous levels were measured, and PAH and Alkane degradation was quantified.
    The results from the tests of OSE II were excellent!
    OSE II showed a great ability in the closed laboratory test to be able to remediate PAH’s, as well as the Alkanes. In fact, by the conclusion of the testing time frame, OSE II had remediated 80% of both components of the oil released by BP which ended up in Bay Jimmy, Louisiana. Based on total concentration levels of the PAH’s OSE II actually remediated 200 %of the PAH’s or 162% of the total of both oil fractions since the Alkanes and PAH’s were measured on a 100% basis for each.
    This test by a major oil company is the second major testing of OSE II on two of the largest spills on water in the history of planet Earth caused by Man. Exxon tested OSE II in 1989 at Florham Park, New Jersey and discovered OSE II was the most effective product in the world by a factor of better than 90% on the North Slope Alaskan Crude oil from the Valdez spill.
    BP has now successfully tested OSE II on their spill in the Gulf of Mexico which is estimated, at this time, to be over 600,000,000 gallons of oil spilled.
    Dr. Tsao wrote in his report “After nearly one year since the Deepwater Horizon spill, residual weathered oil remains in many locations. The need for a field trial to establish operational criteria for final bioremediation work plans should be initiated before early Spring 2011.”
    The OSEI Corporation has alerted BP that, after over 16,000 spill clean ups in the past 21½ years, the logistics in regard to the successful application of OSE II were worked out some time ago.
    The remediation of the PAH’s also verifies that OSE II is an extremely effective first response bioremediation product, and has among its many benefits:
    ) causes the oil to float which limits the negative toxic impact to the water column or ocean floor of the oil and dispersant
    ) the reduction of the adhesion properties so the oil cannot stick to birds, grass, rock or sand on shorelines
    ) the elimination of fire hazard
    ) proven non-toxic by the numerous formal toxicity tests, the fact that you can safely wash your hands with it, and the TV news program in which Retired Rear Admiral Lively drank some of it
    ) Boom deployment actually works and can help since OSE II causes oil to float
    ) OSE II causes the oil to float, because of the method in which it goes to work on the oil, it is still very difficult to see
    ) defined end point of turning the oil into water and CO2
    The above clearly demonstrate that it is the best and only needed oil spill response and that it will, even at this late date, remediate both fresh and weathered oil and dispersant currently in the Gulf.

    David Tsao, Ph.D
    BioChem Strike Team Leader; Deepwater Horizon

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