Environmental Protection

Jackson Updates Senate Committee on BP Spill Work

On May 18, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa P. Jackson testified before the Senate committee on Environment and Public Works on the agency's involvement and activities related to the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion and oil release. She noted that "In the last three weeks, EPA has dispatched more than 120 staff scientists, engineers, and contractors to Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, and Mississippi to perform rigorous testing and monitoring of air and water quality. We are tracking any possible adverse impacts stemming from controlled burning of surface oil, possible chemicals rising from the oil itself, and any issues caused by the use of dispersants. We are working with state officials, with local university scientists, and other federal agencies to get the best available data, share that data in a timely fashion, and to ensure proper response for the Gulf Coast people and their environment."

The agency is testing both affected and unaffected surface water along the Gulf Coast and compiling the information for regular posting on www.epa.gov/bpspill, Jackson said.

Concerning the use of oil dispersants, Jackson explained that "We know that surface use of dispersants decreases the environmental risks to shorelines and organisms at the surface. And we know that dispersants break down over weeks rather than remaining for several years as untreated oil might. But, we are also deeply concerned about the things we don’t know. The long-term effects on aquatic life are still unknown, and we must make sure that the dispersants that are used are as non-toxic as possible. We are working with manufacturers, with BP and with others, to get less toxic dispersants to the response site as quickly as possible."

According to the agency's Web site, British Petroleum is using two authorized dispersants: Corexit 9500A and Corexit 9527A. Both of these are manufactured by Nalco Energy Services LP of Sugar Land, Texas, and have about a 50 percent average effectiveness on South Louisiana and Prudhoe Bay crudes.

These chemicals were authorized under the National Contingency Plan. Jackson added that federal authorities are allowing the dispersants to be applied underwater, which should use less dispersant than surface application; however, if the agency concludes that this use is harmful to the environment, it will not be used further.

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