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Commission: Federal government's stance on dispersants questioned

Published: Tuesday, July 13, 2010, 12:11 PM
Updated: Tuesday, July 13, 2010, 12:38 PM
Source: http://www.nola.com/news/gulf-oil-spill/index.ssf/2010/07/commission_federal_governments.html
David Hammer, The Times-Picayune


Photo: Mathy Stanislaus, Assistant Administrator for the Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response, Environmental Protection Agency, Charlie Henry, Scientific Support Coordinator, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Michael Bromwich, Director, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, take questions at the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Spill and Offshore Drilling meeting at the Riverside Hilton on Tuesday.

An update from the second public hearing of the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling Commission. You can watch the hearing live

Mathy Stanislaus, Assistant Administrator for the Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response, Environmental Protection Agency, Charlie Henry, Scientific Support Coordinator, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Michael Bromwich, Director, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, take questions at the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Spill and Offshore Drilling meeting at the Riverside Hilton on Tuesday.
The public has had a hard time accepting government claims that dispersants used to fight the Gulf oil spill are safe, and a presidential commission brought that controversy to the fore Tuesday.

Commission members expressed skepticism about some of the testimony about dispersants and oil waste from Mathy Stanislaus, the Environmental Protection Agency's assistant administrator for the Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response.

Stanislaus painted a picture of an EPA that's putting a lot of effort into easing public fears about the chemical dispersants and other toxic impacts of the spill response, but commission members echoed concerns from some of Monday's public comments about the feeling of mystery surrounding the effects of chemicals being used.

"While the use of dispersants represents an environmental tradeoff, it's important to understand that oil is the No. 1 enemy and dispersants are not as toxic and the oil they break down," Stanislaus said. "Dispersants break down over weeks rather than persisting for years as oil might."

But when Stanislaus said that tests of oil collected as waste showed it wasn't hazardous, he was challenged by commission member Terry Garcia, an executive vice president of the National Geographic Society.

"You say the dispersant is not as toxic as the oil, but you're saying the solid waste that contains the oil is not dangerous and is being dumped in a non-hazardous landfill. How is that possible?" Garcia said.

Stanislaus said the EPA has used independent monitoring to assure themselves that there's no danger, but promised to keep monitoring.

Stanislaus said EPA tests of Corexit, BP's chosen dispersant, have found that it is comparable to other, previously approved dispersants. But he emphasized that more testing is needed, and in the meantime EPA has gotten BP to reduce the amount of the dispersant being used.

That raised this question from commission co-chairman and former EPA Administrator William Reilly: "You say 40 percent of oil is dispersed naturally and oil is more toxic than the dispersants. So, why restrict the use of it so heavily if that's the case?"

Reilly also said the dispersants' unknown effect on fisheries is troublesome.

"You know a lot of fishermen have very strong reservations about dispersants, that it hides the oil under the surface and makes it hard for the fish to avoid it," Reilly said. "That's what we found in Prince William Sound" after the 1989 Exxon Valdez tanker spill in Alaska, during Reilly's time as EPA chief.

Reilly also asked Stanislaus why there was an argument about toxicity of the dispersants after the spill when the government is supposed to be prepared for their use in advance of a spill.

"We do believe the process needs to be changed," Stanislaus acknowledged.


 

 

 

 

 

 
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