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Unprecedented Levels of Toxic Oil Dispersant in Gulf Cause Worry

The EPA told BP late yesterday that they had 24 hours to choose an alternate chemical dispersant that is less-toxic than the one they are currently applying by the hundreds-of-thousands of gallons in the Gulf of Mexico to try to break up the crude oil that is rising to the surface and spreading. BP has been trying to stop the growing oil slick since the April 20 explosion of their oil rig, the Deepwater Horizon. The explosion killed 11 oil rig workers and ruptured pipes a mile-deep below the surface of the Gulf, from which oil has been spewing at an estimated rate of 200,000 gallons per day ever since.

BP has been using two forms of dispersant, Corexit 9500A and Corexit 9527A. So far, they have applied 600,000 gallons to the surface of the Gulf and 55,000 underwater. Chemical dispersants have never been used in this volume before. The EPA’s move shows that federal officials are deeply concerned over the effect the unprecedented levels of chemical dispersant will have on marine life. A highly toxic dispersant could potentially lead to more environmental contamination.

Last week, after BP had conducted three rounds of testing, the EPA approved BP’s plan to use the dispersant underwater. Environmentalists and some lawmakers protested the move and urged the EPA to reconsider. Representative Edward J. Mackey wrote a letter to EPA’s administrator, Lisa P. Jackson, pointing out that Britain banned the chemical being used by BP more than 10 years ago and that the long-term effects of such a large volume of these chemicals has not been studied. Mackey and others asked the EPA to use more caution in approving such measures.

The EPA planned to make a formal announcement today regarding their directive to BP. After BP submits their list of alternatives to the EPA, they must apply the new dispersant within 72 hours. The EPA announcement applies to use of dispersants both underwater and on the Gulf’s surface.

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