I’m not a chemist so forgive me for not swallowing hook, line and sinker the Environmental Protection Agency’s findings Monday that the dispersant used by BP in the Gulf of Mexico oil blowout is no more toxic when mixed with oil than the oil alone.
The EPA tests were twofold. One was challenging BP’s assertion that the chemical Corexit was less toxic than other dispersants. It wasn’t. The second was conducted on a sampling of small fish and baby shrimp. No harmful evidence was ascertained.
Paul Anastas, EPA assistant administrator for research and development said the tests prove the oil itself is public enemy No. 1 in a conference call with reporters.
He said tests on the sampled fish included higher concentrates of dispersant chemicals than the species would be expected to encounter in the Gulf.
The EPA findings ease the spanking the Coast Guard received from Rep. Edward Markey, chairman of the House Energy and Environmental Subcommittee on Saturday. The Massachusetts Democrat said the Coast Guard allowed 74 waivers allowing BP to spray the dispersants in defiance of a federal order restricting the usage to rare occasions.
BP applied about 1.8 million gallons of Corexit at the wellhead of the blowout 5,000 below the Gulf and on the surface with aerial tankers following the accident April 20 until the well was temporarily capped July 15.
On June 30, the EPA released the results from its first round of testing, which showed that none of the eight dispersants appeared to have harmful effects on the endocrine systems of marine life. “I have not seen any evidence, any data, that has shown wildlife sickened or killed because of dispersants,” Anastas said Monday.
In addition, researchers have seen no data to suggest the dispersant has spread away from the well head, Anastas said.
Asked about the oil sinking to the sea floor because of the dispersant, Anastas said the purpose of dispersant is to put the oil in a form where it can be broken down by natural microbes — where it is now. During that process, the microbes metabolize the oil, breaking it down until it turns into carbon dioxide and water.
“What we ultimately want is this hazard, the oil … to of course go away,” he said. “The way that it goes away in nature is to be metabolized by these microbes.”
Anastas is telling us those underwater floating oil plumes drenched at the wellhead are free of the chemical Corexit.
As of this writing, EPA had not posted its findings on its website. It is unclear whether the chemical companies released confidential patent trade secrets in their products to the EPA.
What the findings do suggest is we will never know the harm, if any, the chemicals play in the long term on fish and wildlife. They also suggest adding one toxic on top of the toxicity in the natural crude does not equate to greater toxic potential damage.
One bad effect the dispersants did have. As the slimmed down viscosity of the oil slick arrived on shore, skimmers and booms failed to trap and collect it as it simply flowed under the devices and into the marshes and beaches. There was less of it but too slippery and elusive to catch and the results of it striking landfall were the same.
Here is a EPA summary report on the dispersants from earlier findings.
Cross posted on The Remmers Report
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Jerry Remmers worked 26 years in the newspaper business. His last 23 years was with the Evening Tribune in San Diego where assignments included reporter, assistant city editor, county and politics editor.