As of right now, oil companies engaged in cleanup operations after a spill (one particular one comes to mind) are not required to disclose which chemicals comprise the products they are using to contain or break up the oil. Therefore, BP isn't required to reveal which chemicals make up the toxic dispersants it's spraying in droves in the Gulf. It's alarming that these standards don't already exist to say the least, but at least one senator plans on doing something about it: Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) announced he plans to introduce the Safe Dispersants Act next week. Here's what it will do if passed: It's pretty simple, really -- according to a report from Mother Jones, the bill would require all companies involved in cleanup operations to reveal which chemicals comprise the dispersants used therein. It would also require that the dispersants be tested and approved by the EPA before use -- another no-brainer.
The matter has of course been raised as a concern after BP began spraying hundreds of thousands of gallons of two variants of the toxic dispersant called Corexit both onto the surface of the slick, and directly at the source of underwater oil geyser. The dispersant had never been used at such volumes before, and is considered experimental -- long and short term impacts on sea life and underwater ecosystems are still largely unknown.
This fact has caused outrage among many environmental groups, who balk at the fact that a chemical with such unpredictable impacts is being used at such large volumes. Even the EPA found that there was reason to be concerned, and issued a directive to BP to halt the use of the dispersants -- a directive that BP promptly and willfully ignored. BP has not released the list of ingredients that make up Corexit, and independent investigations to do so are still underway.
At a recent hearing on dispersant use -- where the new bill was announced -- EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson highlighted the ongoing dilemma: (via Mother Jones)
Jackson says that while her agency is still concerned about their use, it's still letting BP use the dispersants because they're considered safer than the oil itself. Yet she acknowledged repeatedly that the EPA did not have enough research on the long-term impacts of the chemicals. "With the use of dispersants, we are faced with environmental trade-offs," Jackson told the panel. "The long term effects on aquatic life are largely unknown." But, she said, "We have not seen significant environmental impacts from the use of dispersants so far."That's hardly reassuring. A bill like the one Lautenberg is proposing should have been in place years ago.
More on Chemical Dispersants and the BP Gulf Spill
Chemical Dispersants 101: How They Work (Video)
1.1 Million Gallons of Toxic Chemical Dispersants Now in the Gulf ...
Must-See Video Shows BP Gulf Spill & Toxic Dispersants Underwater