government's stance on dispersants
Published: Tuesday, July 13, 2010, 12:11
Updated: Tuesday, July 13, 2010, 12:38
David Hammer, The Times-Picayune
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
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
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
"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
"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.