EPA Tells BP to Use Less-Toxic Dispersants

Today, the EPA directed BP to choose a less-toxic (but equally effective) dispersant for use in combating both the oil slick on the surface and the oil plume gushing from the broken riser on the sea floor. More than 600,000 gallons of dispersant, a chemical solution that breaks the oil down into finer droplets that degrade more easily, have been applied on the surface, and another 55,000 gallons have been applied underwater. These amounts are unprecedented—far more than has ever been applied to U.S. waters before. It's generally agreed upon that dispersants are toxic, but many argue that using them is better than not using them, since the toxicity of the undispersed oil can be greater. Scientists have been debating many sides of the dispersant issue—including whether their benefit outweighs their risks in this case, whether it's safe to use them in the deep sea at the source of the leak, and whether a better (less toxic and of equal or greater effectiveness) dispersant formula could be used. Today's EPA directive reflects growing concern over the use of the specific product BP has been applying. EPA has a list of approved dispersants that range in toxicity.

Meanwhile, BP has announced that it's now collecting about 5,000 barrels of oil per day through the riser insertion tube. A substantial amount of oil still appears to be leaking, however, unequivocally proving what many independent scientists have been convinced of for weeks—that the magnitude of the spill has been grossly underestimated.